The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Eater of the Dead
Chapter 11

December 29th, 7pm

‘Right. What next?’ asks John, feeling bloody lucky after their escape. Now he’s had a bit of time to calm down, his thoughts drift back to Sarah. The last two were dealt with earlier this week. Shit! He was too slow! ‘Donald, you were keen to start taking out the opposition, how about Sarah next? Better still, how about we try and get a bit of a meet set up between Nefertiti’s and the Watcher’s groups?’

Donald looks up, surprised. ‘Sure – sounds good. The more of those arseholes we can screw over, the better.’

John gets out his phone and makes a call. ‘Sarah, it’s John. I’ve sorted out that bit of business and managed to contact some people about the ship. Delivery is to be at Stonehenge at midnight tomorrow if you’re still interested.’

‘Midnight at the end of tomorrow or at the beginning?’ Sarah St John sounds excited.

‘The end. Great, see you there.’

‘Stonehenge, did you say?’ asks Sean as John closes up the phone. ‘Sounds like there’s something going off there already.’ He turns up the van radio. … Armed forces are on standby today after talk that an IRA bomb might be planted at Stonehenge. Officials believe a phone call received this morning was a hoax, but they say they will not send in any more personnel until the matter has been investigated thoroughly.’

‘Maybe one of the other SITU teams,’ hazards Donald.

Rupert is awoken from a drunken stupor by the insistent tugging of Hawkins, the elderly butler, at his sleeve. As consciousness slithers over him, he senses that the faithful retainer is brandishing a telephone receiver at him. He rolls off the table, landing heavily on hands and knees. ‘A Mr Hamilton, sir. He said it was most urgent that he speak with you.’

‘Rupert, John. We’ve got Arabella.’

Rupert is as excited as an appalling headache allows him to be. ‘ Oh… great news chaps. Can I speak to her?’ He sounds rather groggy and not particularly well.

‘No, there’s a bit of a problem.’ John’s voice is crackly and distant.

‘Why the devil not? I do hope Sean hasn’t done something to make her mouth full!’

‘Stop flapping you great twat, and listen for once!’ Rupert stares at the receiver. This does not sound like the calm and even-tempered John he thought he knew. ‘She’s in some sort of trance state. Can you get hold of Karyn and ask her to arrange a meet with her psychic bloke? We’re heading west and can meet them at Newbury services just off the M4.’

‘Oh good grief.’ Rupert is both disappointed and angry. ‘Well thanks chaps. Did Donald get involved in this at all? If he did I’m not surprised Arabella’s not right. It has the same effect on me most of the time.’

John presses on. ‘Whilst you’re at it, try contacting Nefertiti. Tell her she can have her ship back. It’s being delivered to Stonehenge at midnight tomorrow.’

‘Donald owes me for this,’ Rupert is muttering to himself. ‘First my father and now this.’ Then what John has said sinks in. ‘We’re giving her ship back?!’

‘Will you stop flapping!! I thought you bloody aristos had plenty of self control? Let’s just say there could be a nice surprise for her.’

Rupert blinks, nodding slowly, rubbing his temple. Hopefully this will be explained later. ‘Any idea how the child is? Is she still pregnant?’

‘Yes, she is. Looks normal to me, for what that’s worth.’

‘Look, forget Newbury, I’ll meet you all at Daphne’s in Oxford. Bring Arabella. I thought I ought to mention that in case you forget. Oh, by the way, don’t leave Arabella alone with Sean. In an unconscious state like that he probably fancies his chances.’

Karyn has just finished briefing her Mysteria contacts when her phone rings again. This time it is Rupert. ‘Karyn, can you ring that friend of yours that forced out the spirit of Nefertiti from your body? Professor Westwood I think his name is. Ask him to come immediately to Daphne’s house. We need someone with his abilities to try and save Arabella.’

‘Why, what’s up with her?’ Karyn asks interestedly. She nods, grinning to herself, as Rupert vaguely describes the symptoms. How undignified for the prissy Arabella. ‘Sure, that sounds right up Westwood’s alley. I’ll line him up.’

‘Also a doctor, if you know any. We need someone specializing in obstetrics and gynaecology. I tried it myself you know. I was mainly hoping for a busman’s holiday but it didn’t quite work out. There was too much stuff to look into, and I didn’t like the hours. It was a dirty job and I couldn’t really concentrate. too much drugs and… oh God, I’m talking such bollocks now.’

‘You sure are. Get a grip, Rupert!’

‘OK, Look, just make a few calls, or give me the numbers. I’ll be going right to Daphne’s house. See you there possibly.’

‘If I can tear myself away. Oh, and Rupert, there might be some good news about Nefertiti’s ship soon. I have my own contacts – they’re off to give ol’ Blaize a wake-up call. We’ll get the location of the spaceship for you, don’t worry about it.’

Karyn hangs up and then starts typing the Professor’s number. Her mind, though, is still on the belated Christmas present that is now on its way to Geoff Blaize.

Rupert, in a very woolly and unstable way, is struggling to get dressed in what passes for a hurry when your head feels like a herd of elephants is stampeding around in it accompanied by a very loud brass band. He locates George by the sounds of cheerful whistling from the bathroom. ‘George old fellow. Good news. Well sort of. They have rescued Arabella. Typically even now they can’t do anything right and she is unconscious and babbling. A bit like me last night, though I can’t remember much about it.’

‘Don’t worry, none of it seems to have made the papers,’ George reassures him. ‘Well, none except the Daily Mail. And they’re a lot kinder than they might have been.’ At least, he assumes the journalists could have thought of a worse headline than ‘Bereaved Toff Is Drunken Oaf’, if they’d really put their minds to it.

‘Give Daphne a ring and tell her we’ll all meet there. They’re bringing Arabella. I’ll see what we can do there. I need to get help for Arabella. Know any good doctors and psychiatrists? My own shrink is currently convalescing in an institution after too many sessions with me.’

‘Never used one, myself,’ admits George. His face brightens. ‘How about a medium, though? I saw a wonderful one when… er, you know. Isabelle Kingston, her name was.’

But unfortunately Isabelle Kingston is not available at short notice: she seems to have been commandeered by a different group of desperate SITU operatives.

In the car, Rupert is twitchy, urging George to drive faster and constantly checking his watch. ‘You could get Daphne’s gynaecologist to meet us there. I’ve been trying to think of an excuse. She could say you’d got another woman pregnant but she’d fainted at the news and was babbling. Alternatively she has always been unconscious and babbling and that’s what attracted you to her in the first place… But then I realised that anyone not in on this would immediately call an ambulance and we’d be in trouble.’

George, glancing across in the mirror, suspects that his friend is actually rather worried about Arabella, and trying to cover it up with humour, so ignores these attempts at flippancy. Rupert gradually subsides into a nervous silence which is most unlike him, and starts to chew his nails. As the Oxford ring road approaches his signs of tension increase all the more.

Rupert leaps out of the car before it has come to a stop, narrowly avoiding tripping over a tub of petunias. As a surprised Daphne opens the door, he shoots inside, dashing straight for the living-room, where the beloved, wan form of Arabella is laid out on the sofa. ‘Oh God! What the hell has that bitch done to you?’

Rupert turns to the others and say, ‘Nefertiti is dead meat, chaps. One way or another I want to be the one to end her miserable existence. This has been very very personal for far too long. I will end it at Buckingham Palace, one way or another.’

John starts to relate the circumstances under which they found Arabella. Donald is staring hard at Rupert all the while, sensitive to any sort of criticism, but Rupert seems to have got the sarcasm out of his system during the earlier phone call.

‘It all sounds rather trying,’ says George in an attempt at breeziness.

‘Ammit pretty much chewed Martyn’s legs off,’ says Donald coldly. ‘The three of us just took out most of Nefertiti’s army, and we took on Ammit. This thing was 12 foot tall, and it was a monster. I personally have not seen any 12 foot tall monsters before, but I’ll tell you what, it scared the living piss out of me.’

‘Er, yes, I can see how it might have,’ starts George, but Donald has turned his withering glare on Rupert.

‘Your bird has been under guard by that thing day and night: I expect just being with it all that time has killed her spirits. You thought she had bad dreams before, just wait till the ones she’ll have if we ever bring her round.’

Rupert though is ignoring Donald, and has taken Arabella’s hand in his, rubbing it a little. He says quietly, ‘‘Bella? ‘Bella? Are you in there somewhere? For God’s sake show me some sort of sign that you can hear me. Squeeze my hand or something. Please. Just for me and the baby.’

But there is no answering squeeze.

Professor Westwood arrives with no more ceremony than the previous time. ‘You guys are making a habit of messing with powerful forces,’ he says dourly. ‘One day someone’s going to get hurt.’

He takes off his jacket and starts to examine Arabella, while John explains the situation again.

Eventually he stands back up and rolls his shoulders slowly.

‘Well? can you help her?’ asks Rupert eagerly.

Westwood rubs his forehead. ‘I can try, but to be honest it doesn’t look too good. A large part of her spirit is absent. I can try and hunt for it along the silver cord, and drag it back, but depending on where it is, that might be hard work.’

‘What about the baby? Is that anything to do with it? I’ve had fears all along that the baby might be used by Nefertiti for something.’

Westwood shoots him a sideways glance. ‘The baby seems to be OK, physically and spiritually. But there’s something a little… I don’t know, odd… about it. Definitely odd.’

‘What do you mean?’ Rupert has difficulty maintaining his patience.

‘There’s going to be something a bit special about this child, when it’s born. Not special in a bad way,’ he adds, seeing the expression on Rupert’s face. ‘But I reckon it’ll be powerfully gifted. Some of that is natural – you and this girl are spiritual opposites, near enough, and that always makes a powerful combination. But it’s also been enhanced, probably by Nefertiti. Not an influence, just an enhancement.’

Seeing Rupert is keen to ask more questions he adds brusquely ‘Anyway, the baby won’t ever get born unless we can bring the mother back, so why don’t you leave me to it? Make a cup of tea or something.’

While Professor Westwood starts his preparations, the operatives gather in the kitchen to plot.

‘I’m going to head off to Bristol for a little while, if I’m not needed here,’ says John. ‘Donald?’

‘Sure, good idea. I don’t mind getting the info, but as for making it look like Nefertiti’s work… Jim, I’m a hitman not a butcher.’ Donald tries very hard to say this last bit in a William Shatner voice, but fails rather miserably. Sean stares at him in amazement. Donald hastily continues ‘I’m also concerned that these men-in-black guys from the MOD will be there, and I’m afraid that if they get in my way then they go down too.’

‘No great loss,’ says John coldly.

‘All I’m saying is, I’ll kill her, but as far as carving her up like Nef… well, you’re helping, soldier boy.’

With that the two of them head off, leaving George, Rupert and Sean to continue planning, while Daphne supplies towels and hot water to the Professor.

‘Can we set Nef and The Watcher against each other? Maybe get them both to Stonehenge to fight for the ship, like John suggested?’ asks Sean.

‘Well, we can try, but I don’t think it will work,’ says Rupert doubtfully. ‘She’s not stupid. She almost certainly knows that The Watcher has plans including Stonehenge, and she’ll be suspicious of any suggestion of meeting outside of Buckingham Palace before New Year’s Eve.’

‘But John’s told Sarah that he’ll give them the ship there,’ protests George.

‘I don’t think Sarah is going to be an issue much longer, the way those two were talking,’ says Sean darkly. ‘I have to say I think it would have been better to hand her over to SITU, to get some information out of her.’

‘Maybe killing her will set The Watcher back a little, at least.’

‘True, but what we really need to know is how to kill Nefertiti. And how do I get into the Palace on New Year’s Eve.’

‘You’ve been invited, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, but Nefertiti will be expecting me to tell her where the ship is, and I don’t know.’

‘If you’re immune to her wiles while wearing the disc, you could just lie,’ suggests George. ‘Or we could hypnotize you.’

‘Or we could just tell you a false location,’ says Sean. ‘As long as you believe it, that’ll be good enough for her. A fool can fool a fool, sort of thing.’

Rupert is not sure if this is supposed to be an insult, and after a hard stare decides to leave it. ‘Well, I’ll just have to try and bluff about having the spaceship, and try to be there with maybe one of you lot. Hopefully she’ll still let me in, even after we rescued Arabella. Blackmail’s a wonderful thing you know.’

‘Yes, take as many of us as you can, anyone who is anyone these days has their own gang of bodyguards,’ says George. ‘The main point we need to keep in sight,’ he adds seriously, ‘is that Nefertiti cannot be allowed to usurp the throne of England, Scotland, Wales and parts of Northern Ireland. I realise that our current royalty is not exactly perfect, but they are ours – not some mad alien bimbo who wants a big house in easy reach of Harrods.’

‘Doesn’t seem that much difference to me, but I’ll go along with you for the sake of it,’ says Sean amiably. ‘What say we put a bomb in Rupert’s top hat?’

George frowns. ‘Actually, thinking this through…why is she so desperate to get the ship back, if she intends to stay?’

‘Fallback policy? She seems an odd mix of caution and risk,’ says Sean. ‘None of the other Ylids I’ve encountered had pet monsters.’ He frowns in turn. ‘Strange how it was being contained in the circle. Maybe that info can be used? Trap it if it shows up again?’

‘Arabella’s our expert in that sort of thing,’ says George sadly.

‘Maybe, but I’ll bet there’s other people around who could draw up an ochre circle for you. Anyone who’s studied Ancient Egyptian whatnot. There’s probably some professor or something here in Oxford we could grab. If it’s for the good of the Crown of England, he’d probably be happy to help.’ Or if he isn’t, we can probably convince him, adds Shamus. Imagine if they all got killed and it was left with idiot-boy here as King. What a fine thing that would be. You’d better make sure you’re along there, Sean me boy, or the dear knows what might happen. ‘And another thing,’ Sean continues manfully despite his invisible distraction, ‘Arabella herself – she needs put somewhere safe. She was clearly very important to the enemy. Will they try to get her back? Best be ready for it.’

‘I’m not sure where is safe any more,’ says George doubtfully. ‘I expect SITU could find somewhere, but…’

‘I’m not trusting those buggers with her,’ interrupts Rupert.

‘Well, it’s that, or leave her here, or take her with us,’ says Sean.

The discussion is interrupted by a wail from the living-room – Arabella’s voice. Rupert leads the sprint through, but is disappointed to see that she is not yet conscious: the cry seems to have been drawn from her by Professor Westwood laying an aromatic moist cloth across her forehead.

‘I’m about ready to start now,’ says the Professor dryly. ‘Watch if you want to, but keep quiet.’

Mahmoud peers anxiously from around Daphne’s legs – he seems rather doleful at being ignored during Donald’s brief visit – and all hush as an expression of concentration appears on Westwood’s face. Arabella’s voice wails again, and her eyes roll under their lids. Beads of sweat start on the Professor’s forehead, and Daphne considerately sponges his brow. ‘Thanks – this is just the start of it,’ he mutters through clenched teeth, and Arabella wails once more.

‘I know how to get in,’ Donald says to John. ‘Follow my lead.’

He knocks on Sarah’s door, and when she comes to answer it, he flips a random card at her. ‘Good day Miss, we’re from the Flying Squad. You were a friend of Peter Lovell’s, were you not? Mind if we come in and ask a few questions?’

He is not prepared for her reaction, though: he is barely halfway through the second sentence when she quick-draws a small handgun from an armpit holster and shoots him at point-blank range. ‘Fuck!’ Donald jackknifes, clutching at his middle.

John, at the gate, drops to one knee behind what cover the hedge provides, and squeezes off a snapshot of his own – a lucky one, for he hits Sarah in the shoulder, the heavy calibre sending her spinning back into the hallway.

Teeth gritted, he charges up the path, stepping over the cursing Donald and kicking the door back on its hinges.

Sarah is prone on the floor, pale and unconscious.

John hastily drags Donald indoors. There has been no immediate reaction to the shots, but this is a quite neighbourhood. He drags the doormat over the bloodstain, and pushes the door to. He disarms and ties Sarah – her wound is not a fatal one – and patches her and Donald. ‘You bloody idiot, what did you have to go and get tagged for?’

‘I’ll be all right,’ wheezes Donald. He can hear the silvery voice of the Grail Maiden calling sadly ‘Lancelot, Lancelot! Now is not yet the time!’

John inspects him. ‘Looks like it’s missed the lung – you’re lucky, mate. You take it easy for a bit.’ He props Donald in a chair, and concentrates his efforts on bringing Sarah round.

This does not take as long as he had expected: she must be very tough. Her eyes flutter open, then blink slowly, at once taking in her rather unfavourable situation.

‘Yes, it’s me again,’ says John. ‘And now you’re going to tell me everything I need to know about The Watcher, Nefertiti, the Ylid plans for New Year’s Eve, and what you know about SITU.’

After a little while, Rupert cannot bear to watch the woman he loves undergoing such torments, and he stomps away to Daphne’s study and boots up her PC. He checks his email again, but is frustrated to see that he still has had no response from any of the other SITU groups to his request for information on how to kill an Ylid. Dispiritedly, he types ‘killing an Ylid’ into the Lycos search box, and is surprised to find that quite a number of SITU missions are well documented on the web, under cover of a ‘games’ site.

Rupert starts to read, making notes as he goes. It seems as though one way to harm an Ylid may be to turn their magical power against them, as the Culver group managed in Whitby: the Ylid known as the Master was weakened by infecting the local folk belief in vampires, from which he was drawing power, with the magical influence of the voodoo goddess Ezili. It looked as though that had taken quite a bit of planning, though, and a greater understanding of the theory of worship than Rupert and his colleagues possess. Sadly, it seems that conventional weaponry will simply have no effect unless the Ylid’s magical power has been weakened or cut off. The top hit, though, is a report on a mission to Mexico in which a SITU team actively set out to kill Ylids, and succeeded in disposing of three of them. It seems that if two or more Ylids are bought into close proximity, they will mutually destroy one another in a cataclysmic explosion. This is because of some sort of subatomic reaction involving a special ‘mages’ organ’ which they all possess in their bodies. However, the long-dead Ylid Cleitus, and later SITU, managed to synthesize a serum containing a substance called ‘dubhium’, a form of ytterbium, which allowed Ylids to meet safely. (John currently has some of this serum.) The Mexican Ylids were destroyed by a trick: they were given dubhium serum, allowing them to meet (which they had been keen to do for some time), and then shooting them with a dart containing a neutralizing anti-dubhium serum, at which point they exploded. The operatives involved were Martin Keyes, T.R. Warren, Eric Alnes, Belle-Marie Prior, Martyn Aberg, Steven Smith, and Sean.

‘Hello there Shareena? It’s me, Rupert de Montfort.’

There is a distinctly chilly pause. ‘You have a hell of a nerve calling me, Rupert.’ Nefertiti does not sound pleased.

‘Look, I know about what happened with the rescue of Arabella, but I keep my promises. I have access to the spaceship. Do you still want it?’

Another pause. ‘You expect me to still trust you after what you have done?’

‘Well, it’s up to you, you can take it or leave it. We’d agreed to exchange the ship for Arabella; I thought it would be better for me to make sure I was going to get my end of the bargain. But I’m still happy to give you yours if you want it. We’ve got no use for the ship, after all. Anyway, the next time my allies can deliver it is just on midnight on New Years Eve. Is that acceptable?’

‘It is not for you to dictate terms to me,’ she says sternly.

‘I think you’ll find it is, actually!’ Rupert is even sterner. ‘Look here. You have little choice in this. I have Arabella, I have the spaceship, I call the shots. It is just on midnight or not at all. Your choice. I want to be there with you to see the historic event. And I’ll have bodyguards with me, too, I can tell you that.’

‘I suppose you think you are very clever, do you? – just like your father. He was a man very pleased with himself.’ Nefertiti’s tone has changed: she sounds almost amused. ‘Very well, I will meet with you at midnight on New Year’s Eve, to receive my ship.’

Rupert relaxes, with the Ylid on the run before him. ‘And, by the way, I am not pleased at what you have done to Arabella. What exactly did you think to gain by doing that? Unconscious and babbling she was when we found her. Why do that?’

Nefertiti bursts into a rich peal of beguiling laughter. ‘You think that you have taken the cards from me. You have back now your sickly pale-skinned woman. But I think you will see that I have a small… insurance policy… with her.’

‘What do you mean?’ asks Rupert suspiciously.

‘Part of her is here with me still –  inside me. The most important part. If any harm comes to me, on New Year’s Eve, before I have my ship, this part will be destroyed, and she will remain forever as she is now. You have retrieved her body, but you have not her soul…’

Fortunately for Sarah, she has been realistic. The occasional application of tension to her broken shoulder has been enough to keep her talking. John has learnt that The Watcher has lived in Britain, more specifically in Pembrokeshire, for thousands of years, primarily looking out for UFOs: he is keen to contact intelligent alien species, in the hope of gaining their aid to leave the planet. His people do not think of Nefertiti as a serious Ylid, and are annoyed by her attempts to infiltrate and then take over his operation in the Ministry of Defence. She is seen as just power-crazed and selfish. They had not known, until John told Sarah, that she had a spaceship: The Watcher is keen to get hold of it, and hopefully use it. Sarah does not know any more about Nefertiti’s plans for New Year than John has told her, but she says that The Watcher has a ceremony planned at Stonehenge involving the sacrifice of a powerful baby – not Arabella’s, someone else’s – which will hopefully attract the attention of passing aliens. As for SITU, she turns out not to know all that much: she thinks it is purely a human organization, run by cranks who have detected and are opposed to Ylid influence, and who strike out blindly against Ylids whenever they see them. She knows the names of several members, but she does not take the organization all that seriously.

‘OK, that all sounds pretty good,’ says Donald. ‘I guess we can finish her now.’ He is feeling a lot better, thanks to the Grail Maiden, who has laid her invisible hands over his wounds. It will be a day or so before he is back to full capacity, though.

‘Not just yet,’ says John. Pistol in hand, he squats down in front of Sarah, his face only a few inches away from hers. ‘Do you remember the callsign Romeo Mike Four Eight? Funnily enough it rings a few bells for me as well. Your intel is sadly lacking in one small detail… your Chinese mates missed me with their nuke in the Himalayas.’ He pauses as he sees the horrified realization gradually dawn over her features, then stands and shoots her cleanly through the heart.

‘What now?’ asks a subdued Donald quietly.

John takes out a felt pen, bends over and draws the Nefertiti cartouche on Sarah’s forehead. ‘That’ll do for now,’ he says slowly.

Donald is not sorry to skip the butchery he had thought John was planning. ‘Come on, let’s make a move,’ he says. ‘I’ll be OK to drive.’

A few minutes later, as they are heading through the darkness towards Oxford, John makes another call, using Sarah’s mobile. ‘Hello. Sorry about the time. I’d like to speak to the O/C regarding Operation Desert Storm and callsign Romeo Mike Four Eight. Hello, sir. I learnt yesterday that the last two members of that patrol were killed earlier in the week. No, I’m afraid I can’t say who I am, sir. The person that ordered these actions can be found at 38 Clipstone Villas, Bristol. Although she may not be able to tell you much. She was working for Air Staff 2A out of Whitehall, and a group of her colleagues will be at Stonehenge at midnight tomorrow for a related matter. Goodnight.’

With that, John switches off the phone and settles down to try and get some sleep.

Karyn is still in the flat, whistling and hoovering, when the key turns in the front door. She hurries to it and curtsies politely. ‘Did you have a good day, Miss el-Ahmar?’

‘Not entirely,’ says Nefertiti coldly. She tosses her coat and bag to Karyn as she walks into the flat, looking tired.

Karyn finds her twenty minutes later, as she puts the hoover away, slumped on the chaise longue. She looks older and less glamorous than at any previous time. ‘Why are men so unreliable?’ Nefertiti asks, almost to herself. ‘One would think it was a simple enough matter. If thy help me, they can have their wildest desires fulfilled. But one after another, throughout my time, they have been too weak to support me, or else possessed of low cunning that leads them to believe they can trick me.’ She looks up at Karyn, seeming to take her in properly for the first time. ‘You are an attractive enough creature. Do you not find that men are either so weak as to be useless, or else if possessed of any strength of character they feel themselves compelled to prove they are cleverer than you? Which they can never be, of course.’

‘Er, yeah, I guess so,’ says Karyn nervously. She has to admit there is more than a grain of truth to this rather bitter thesis. Michael is probably the only man for whom she has a genuine respect, and even he can be a real pain at times.

‘I think after this I will give the whole idea up,’ says Nefertiti musingly, relaxing back into the chaise longue. ‘Become a nun maybe. I can see it all clearly: he will not give me my ship back, because he will think he is too clever for that. So I will have to kill his woman. And then I will have to kill him, too. And then I will have to have the stupid one for my consort. And where will be the pleasure in that? And even if my ship is returned, I will never be able to mend it. And I will be stuck here ruling this stupid country for ever, getting duller and duller.’

Her gaze sharpens as she notices Karyn again. ‘Are you eavesdropping, girl?’

‘No, Miss, of course not,’ replies Karyn hurriedly, and she starts vigorously dusting the mantelpiece.

‘Good. Now run me my bath. Tomorrow I will prepare myself, then we shall see what happens on New Year’s Eve.’

George wanders away from the circle of concentration, slightly unnerved by Professor Westwood’s piercing eyes, and makes a phone call: an idea has just occurred to him. ‘I say, Blaize old fellow,’ George starts, ‘what if you were to tell Rupert a false location for the ship, but in such a way that he believed it…’

At the other end of the line there is nothing but a choking gasp for air.

‘I say! Are you all right?’

An agonized groan. ‘They… they got it out of me… I cracked.’ Blaize is mumbling, as though several of his teeth are missing and his tongue is the size of a shoe.

‘Who? what?’ George signals frantically to try and catch the attention of the others, but all are intent on Arabella and the Professor.

Blaize seems to gain a spark of life. ‘I don’t know who – some black-clad goons. Goth looking. Maybe The Watcher’s people – he has a lot of hippies. These guys had some occult knowledge, too, got past my wards and forced me open… eventually. They… found out where the spaceship is. I told them.’

George blinks. ‘No chance they were Nefertiti’s people?’

‘I’m pretty sure not. They weren’t using her type of magic.’

‘Hmm. Well, no use crying over spilt milk, eh? You should get some medical attention, old chap. I’ll send an ambulance round. Is there any chance that we can get to the spaceship before they do?’

‘Too late… it’s only five minutes away, and this was a couple of hours ago. It was you ringing that brought me round again. They’ve got it now, we’re going to have to get used to that. God, this is a mess. What with Andre working or the T Club, and me cracking like this…’ He starts to sound faint again.

‘Hang in there, Blaize. Help’ll be with you soon. As for this other thing… just leave it with us, we’ll take care of it.’ George is sure his uncertain tones do not sound even vaguely confidence-inspiring, but probably Blaize is too far gone to care.

He hangs up, picks up again to call an ambulance for Blaize, hangs up again, and walks slowly back through to the living-room. ‘Er, chaps…’

But as he does so, and as Rupert simultaneously comes down the stairs, alarm on his face, Professor Westwood emits a great and terrible shriek, and collapses over Arabella’s still form as though his string has been cut, blood gushing from his ears, nose and mouth.

Arabella herself convulses briefly and slumps back, seemingly no improved from before.

George leaps to Westwood’s side, but the horrid truth is immediately apparent. ‘I’m afraid he’s dead, chaps.’

December 30th, 3am
John, Donald – on the A4
Karyn – at Nefertiti’s flat
The others – Daphne’s house.


Karyn: before Nefertiti comes back, your Mysteria colleagues phone and tell you that they have the spaceship, secure in the back of a van, in a quiet side street in Clapham.

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