Veronica Clarke, a self-taught freelance investigative journalist, covering minor stories and looking for the big break. (Played by Karen Gilham.)
Chris Conway, a stunt-man who encountered something Nasty while working in Brazil. (Played by Phil Masters.)
Mike Ford, who mostly operates as a legitimate computer troubleshooter, but has been known to skate on the other side of the ice from time to time. Not currently suspected of anything dodgy. (Played by John Dallman.)
Consuela Jones, a biophysicist and sports researcher, who came back from Colorado to look into her father's death. (Played by Bug.)
Harry Tuttle, an ex-SBS heating engineer of no fixed hairstyle. (Played by Owen Smith.)
|New Moon||First Quarter||Full Moon||Last Quarter|
|Jan 5 04:53||Jan 13 09:48|
|Jan 20 13:14||Jan 27 04:48||Feb 3 23:09||Feb 12 03:51|
|Feb 18 23:48||Feb 25 17:14||Mar 5 18:05||Mar 13 17:48|
|Mar 20 09:37 T||Mar 27 07:43||Apr 4 12:06 p||Apr 12 03:44|
|Apr 18 18:58||Apr 25 23:56||May 4 03:43||May 11 10:36|
|May 18 04:14||May 25 17:19||Jun 2 16:21||Jun 9 15:42|
|Jun 16 14:06||Jun 24 11:03||Jul 2 02:21||Jul 8 20:25|
|Jul 16 01:25||Jul 24 04:04||Jul 31 10:44||Aug 7 02:04|
|Aug 14 14:53||Aug 22 19:31||Aug 29 18:36||Sep 5 09:56|
|Sep 13 06:41 P||Sep 21 08:59||Sep 28 02:51 t||Oct 4 21:07|
|Oct 13 00:05||Oct 20 20:31||Oct 27 12:05||Nov 3 12:24|
|Nov 11 17:46||Nov 19 06:27||Nov 25 22:44||Dec 3 07:41|
|Dec 11 10:29||Dec 18 15:14||Dec 25 11:11|
It's a hot and muggy summer in London. Veronica Clarke gets a call from Inspector Tom Farnham of the Metropolitan Police. It seems that street people are being murdered around the Charing Cross / Strand area of London - once quite pleasant, now fairly decayed - and in an unusual way. Starting last Friday night, and at each midnight thereafter, one person has been killed, and by a means that's baffling the forensics people.
The Met don't have the resources to investigate this properly - most of the funding these days goes to police in more important areas, or "initiatives" for things like street crime. So, while Tom can't offer much in the way of reward, he'd be glad of a few extra pairs of eyes...
Veronica calls Mike Ford, and with Harry Tuttle they visit the scenes of the crimes. There's not much to find, though they all seem to be near sewer hatches, and in a couple of cases there's some pinpoint blackening on the brick walls in an outline behind where the victims were standing.
The group also reads the forensic reports, which don't add much to the information from the scenes but do go into more detail about the bodies. Whatever the weapon used, it seems to produce intense heat in a very small area; the police are speculating about some sort of small portable soldering iron. The victims were marked all over on one side, but not on the other, suggesting that the attacks were carried out at great speed. There also seems to be a little less blood than one would normally expect, though it's hard to be sure.
Mike contacts his old friend Roland Slaughter, a pathology lecturer at the Royal Free, and discusses the details. Slaughter is reminded of something, but can't off-hand remember just what; he promises to get back in touch later.
In the evening, the group hangs around in the area, hoping to catch sight of the killer. They don't; but they do hear a remarkable high-pitched tone on the stroke of midnight, and on rushing to the scene find a warm body killed in the same way as the others.
Roland Slaughter gets back in touch with Mike. He mentiones the Charles Stern case: Stern killed a number of people in May of 1985, starting on the 19th (also a new moon) and proceeding with one per night. Stern used a knife, stabbed each victim several hundred times, and when caught confessed freely to his crimes; he said that it was "necessary" to kill one person a night, from the new to the full moon, though he never explained why he thought so. Stern died in prison in 1988; reading between the lines, it looks as though his fellow prisoners may have had a hand in it.
In the evening, the group splits up, but isn't lucky enough to be close to the killing site. However, they do examine the manhole cover via which the killer apparently escaped, and find a number of odd claw-like marks on the ladder leading down to the sewer. They decide not to pursue.
Chris is called up by Dave Anderson, an old friend with a moderately profitable line in drugs. Seems some of his customers are being offed, and that's bad for business. Chris reluctantly agrees to investigate.
Mike gets hold of a sewer map, and discovers that all the hatches used so far have fed into the same outfall into the Thames. (This is an emergency hatch for times of heavy rainfall; normally it's closed, and rainwater flows down into the main sewers to East London.)
Harry buys some trembler switches; he can only get hold of ten on short notice, but goes about planting them on what seem like the most likely hatches to be used.
Veronica decides to go undercover, and spends the day making herself up as a convincing street dweller. It becomes apparent that, since all the murders have been of people on their own, they're now staying in groups even more than usual.
At about ten to midnight, one of Harry's trembler switches is activated. He and Mike rush to the site, where they see something walking along the wall above their heads. It's heading towards Veronica's group...
Veronica sees a very bright red light coming from the wall above her, and hears a familiar but very loud tone; and one of the people in her group falls over, dead. As she looks up, she thinks she sees a cloud of vapour, falling slowly and dispersing.
The killer heads back towards the manhole, where Harry and Mike take a few shots at it. It's pretty dark and hard to see, but neither Mike's Browning nor Harry's Uzi seems to be making much impression. Chris shows up in the alley as well, in pursuit, and takes a few swipes with his baton, to about as much effect. Whatever this thing is, it has a featureless ovoid metal body about three feet long, and is moving on eight metal legs. Harry changes his aim to the legs, and manages to blow one of them off; the thing leaps at him, but just barely misses, and makes its escape down the manhole.
Chris introduces himself to Harry and Mike, since they appear to have interests in common, and they retire to a local all-night coffee shop to shiver and discuss what to do next. Before heading home, they investigate the storm hatch; it has indeed been opened recently.
As later becomes apparent, Guy's Hospital is robbed of bandages, glycine and blood plasma during the night.
Veronica and Mike do research on military and other robots. There isn't much out there: a security robot will follow a pre-programmed path and raise an alarm if it sees anyone without a security badge, but that's about it. Most of the market is with RAMTech, though Tojicorp's a minor player and conducts some research in its facilities in Cambridge.
Chris attempts to get hold of a heavy pistol from Dave Anderson.
Clearly, the Thames is important in some way. The group decides to hire a boat and follow the killer after its next attack. Harry drives; Mike, who's got hold of a decent camera, plans to take photographs. This is a success: while it's hard to track the thing from the middle of the river, it makes no particular effort to hide as it walks along the river wall and the edge of the City and Docklands Enhanced Security Zone. It crosses Limehouse Basin, and turns inland at the West India Docks. Chris immediately leaps ashore to follow it; Mike is shortly behind him; and Veronica reluctantly pursues, leaving Harry somewhat nonplussed on his own in the boat. He ties it up and follows.
Chris sees, and reports to the others when they catch up with him, the killer crossing a number of bridges and finally entering an air-conditioning duct in the Canary Wharf Tower. In spite of the fact that the duct could easily fit a human, they choose not to follow.
Next time, they agree, they'll bring some heavy ordnance and take this thing out.
Harry removes his trembler switches, and plants two on the storm hatch. On examining the scene, the group finds that there's a disused floating restaurant blocking much of the view from the other side of the river to the hatch; on the other hand, it should make a good shooting platform, particularly considering that the weather has broken and it's now raining heavily.
Veronica does some research on Canary Wharf, and finds that it's now largely owned by Tojicorp or its subsidiary companies.
Since Harry's Storm Gun is not even slightly legal in civilian hands, the group decides to get hold of a high-powered rifle to cover the ballistic traces. There's been something of a run on such devices lately, but they do manage to get hold of a somewhat battered Weatherby Mk IV in .338 Magnum, which Harry rapidly brings back to a serviceable condition. Chris seems to be developing gun-fondling tendencies.
Half an hour before midnight, they lie up in good cover and wait with cameras and Storm Gun. Only one of the trembler switches goes off when the killer enters the sewer system.
At midnight, they don't hear the noise of the kill (as indeed they didn't last night). However, they do hear an explosion, which Harry's trained ears identify as a light anti-armour rocket. Soon enough, the hatch opens and the robot emerges. Harry aims up and calmly takes his shot... which hits a vital spot, penetrates the armour, and seems to rattle around inside. The robot promptly falls off the wall into the mud below, and starts to sink. Chris follows up with a shot from his "elephant gun" (largely so that it'll have been fired if the group is stopped by the police, but he does hit and do some damage), and starts to head towards the gangplank in order to take a closer look at the thing.
Off to the west, a car comes screeching round a corner. It's a white Jeep Cherokee, with too many accessories but no obvious markings. As it gets to the river bank, three of the four men in it pile out, one of them holding a boxy object which rapidly proves to be the rocket launcher the group heard earlier. Without even looking around, he fires into the mud where the robot landed, blowing a medium-sized crater.
Chris continues to cross the gangplank, using available cover and taking advantage of the rather poor lighting and weather, and gets a fairly good look at the car and the people who arrived in it. The three, wearing the traditional black clothing and balaclavas, rappel down the wall, then stand around the crater shining their IR torches at it and having a quiet discussion. A few seconds later, a large bubble bursts as something exothermic occurs further down, showering them with mud. After a little more talk, the three walk up the steps to their vehicle and drive off. Cue our heroes, who immediately start excavating the mud in order to find the remains of the robot. There's nothing left inside, but the shell is light, and they remove it.
The group returns home tired but generally enthusiastic.
The shell of the robot is of an alloy that's not immediately identifiable; it's a lot less dense than any of the standard ones. There's nothing left inside apart from some scorch marks.
Unfortunately, the morning news on Sunday reports that there's been another murder. Veronica gets in touch with Farnham, who confirms it - but this time it was "just" a multiple knifing, not the strange weapon that was used before.
That night, they go out to Charing Cross again, splitting up but staying close to each other. It's Chris who becomes the target, as a street dweller in heavy overcoat and hat stumbles towards him waving a knife. For someone with Chris' talents, disarming him is not a major challenge; his hat comes off, revealing a creature of some sort clinging to the back of his head. This leaps rapidly for Chris, who nonetheless manages to dodge it and beat it severely with his baton. What's left is... odd. It's black, furry and bleeding, but there are definitely electronic components in there as well...
The group decides to leave that for the police, who have better forensic capabilities available, and take the street person to Guy's Hospital since he seems to be bleeding from the back of his head where the creature had its claws in him.
Mike talks to Dr Slaughter, and finds out about the forensic analysis. It seems that by the time it had got to the lab, the creature was just a mess of black gunge - simple organic molecules, no proteins or anything complex like that - with a few badly-corroded electronic components. Mike explains to an increasingly incredulous doctor just what's been going on over the last few days.
No relevant murders occur overnight. The white car is glimpsed briefly, apparently patrolling the area where the killings occurred.
As later becomes apparent, Bart's Hospital is robbed of bandages, glycine and blood plasma during the night.
No further murders occur. But the white car is seen again, and this time the group manages to get its number plates in spite of the artfully-applied mud. It's registered as a pool car to Tojicorp at Canada Square.
Mike gets hold of a wide-band radio scanner and direction-finding gear, and records the transmissions to and from the white car. Unfortunately, all he gets is its encrypted traffic to its base at Canada Square, rather than any robot interrogation/response codes as he'd been hoping. He does however get an inspiration for a new piece of software, which will sort through and catalogue transmission sources and alert the user when a new one appears.
This evening the group follows the white car, which as roughly expected goes back to Tojicorp's offices at Canada Square.
This is the night of the full moon, and the group finally decides that there aren't likely to be any more murders. But how was the first robot related to the rat-thing? Who built them? And why did they set them to commit murders? The answers seem to lie with Tojicorp; and that's a hard target.
The Royal Free Hospital is robbed of bandages, glycine and blood plasma during the night.
Roland Slaughter calls up Mike in the morning, sets up a meeting, and there tells him about last night's robbery (and the previous ones). Since Mike seems to know people who are into "weird stuff", perhaps he could ask some of them to look into this?
With greater elucidation, it seems that windows have been smashed, security cameras wrenched off walls, and door-locks broken; but all that's been removed are those three items, which as Slaughter points out aren't much use on their own. All the robberies have taken place between about two and four in the morning, a quiet time even in hospitals, and have only gone into low-security storage areas - drugs robberies are more usual, and precautions can be taken against them, but making all hospital storage high-security is prohibitively expensive.
Glycine and bandages are of course available on the open market; plasma mostly is, though it helps to be a medical institution of some kind.
Mike and Veronica check news and police reports for other robberies in the period, particularly pharmacies and electronics shops; after all, these things could be part of the consumable supplies needed for building robot rats. But there doesn't seem to be any pattern.
Veronica picks up a lead in Cambridge who's willing to talk about Tojicorp, and goes there to follow it up.
Mike gets hold of the remains of the sample of the "rat" - it's standard electronic components, specifically generic processor/logic arrays (FPGA-style) as are used in prototype devices. This particular model is a deliberately read- and tamper-resistant design.
Roland Slaughter introduces Mike and Harry to Joe Henderson, a paediatric oncologist at the Middlesex and a friend of his. Joe arranges for security badges, and Mike, Harry and Chris plan their surveillance: fibre-optic cameras in the ceiling tiles, and tracking bugs on the supplies that seem most likely to be taken. They intend to stake out the Middlesex on Thursday night.
Roland Slaughter calls Mike. The thief has struck again, but at UCL. There's a slight change of style: this time he set a small fire in a wastebasket using scraps of cardboard, just enough to set off the fire alarm and sprinkler system.
Mike, Harry and Chris stake out the supply room at the Middlesex. Chris lurks behind a ceiling tile, ready to drop down when the action starts; Mike and Harry are hiding among the steel shelving.
Sure enough, at about 4.30am they hear the distinctive sound of a security camera being wrenched off the wall, and a few moments later the door bursts inwards as someone kicks the latch. It wasn't actually locked...
Chris can make out a figure in fatigues, and a surprising and strong smell of vinegar, but it passes out of his limited field of vision (moving very fast, to destroy an internal security camera) before he can get a good look at it. Mike and Harry get a better view, and are somewhat taken aback: it looks remarkably like a week-old corpse. Apart from the whole "walking around" bit.
Harry decides that something like this really shouldn't be happening, and unloads his Uzi into it; he's at close range, and fills the thing with lead. It turns round and punches him; his kevlar vest stops most of the force of the attack, but still bruises him quite badly. He wisely decides to play stunned.
Mike is trying to disable this thing; he shoots its foot with his Browning HP-35. Most people don't walk around as well with a bullet in the foot; Mike ends up getting seven in, and it doesn't seem to be slowed down much.
Meanwhile, Chris has dropped down and engaged the thing hand-to-hand, starting with his trademark sweeping kick. The creature jumps over it, grins, and comes in for the attack. Its first hit cracks a few ribs, but Chris manages to hold his own and even get in a couple of good hits; Mike even manages to deflect the blow aimed at him, but observes with some alarm that the holes he just shot in the thing seem to be closing up. Harry decides that, since he's got the tracking bugs handy, he might as well use them; with an amazing feat of sleight-of-hand, he drops one into the thing's boot.
The creature retreats; the party follows. It enters a Zil Tovarishch that seems to be driven by another of its kind, and departs in some haste. Once Harry alerts the party to the existence of the tracking bug, they make some quick excuses to the hospital security guards and follow in their HMMWV, checking the tracker every few minutes to make sure they're on the right path. The target moves up to the North Circular, then joins the M1 and heads towards Watford. Keeping up isn't hard; a Tovarishch has a top speed of 55mph.
The bug keeps moving, leaving the motorway to enter Watford. The party passes the car they were following, abandoned at the side of the road, and continues into a residential suburb. They manage to track it as far as Northfield Gardens (http://www.streetmap.co.uk/streetmap.dll?G2M?X=511280&Y=198860&A=Y&Z=1), a road with some fifty houses on it, but next time they check the signal it's completely vanished: the bug has been found, destroyed or silenced. Mike gets out to see if he can smell vinegar anywhere along the road, but has no luck.
They return to the abandoned car, to see that the keys are in the ignition but the driver's side door has been wrenched open. It also smells strongly of vinegar. Mike calls it in as a possibly-stolen vehicle to Watford Police (sponsored by General Dynamics).
The party returns to the hospital by 6am, where they get bandaged and strapped up as necessary while talking with the police. The surveillance video is very helpful in convincing people of what happened... as are the bullets recovered from the corridor, the hospital's parking lot, and the abandoned car.
Chris finds an unexpected crumpled bit of paper in his pocket; when he smooths it out, it proves to be a pencil sketch of a crest of some sort. Neither Mike nor Harry recognises it, but when Mike gets home he does a few quick searches, and it's pretty distinctive: Naval Spetsnaz.
Chris decides that he should contact a few of his friends in the trade, and show them the "special effects video" in case any of them recognises anything about it.
...to which their reaction is mostly "get a new contract". But one fight arranger does comment that the fighting style looks a bit like Sistema, which was popular a few years back when refugees from the Russian Civil War came over to England.
Meanwhile, in Cambridge... Veronica calls up Alex Henderson, an old colleague of hers who's working for a local paper, and finds out the lay of the land as far as Tojicorp's concerned. This is their major research and development facility in the UK; for an R&D person to be posted here is something of an honour, but as far as security's concerned it's a bit of a backwater.
Accordingly, she spends some time in recommended pubs, listening to the security people grouse. It seems that back in mid-July half the security personnel were suddenly rotated out, and the replacements aren't nearly as interesting - they don't come down to the pub, for example. With a bit more research and lubrication, she picks up some hints that there was an accident, involving at least one death, just before that rotation... and that it involved a "land warfare system" of some sort.
Veronica rejoins the others in London, where they talk about the previous night's events. Since the only major hospital in London that hasn't been hit is the London, they bug supplies of glycine, plasma and bandages there, and lurk in the car park (with Veronica's Tovarishch and Mike's Apache motorcycle).
Harry's tracker shows the presence of a bug, presumably the one from last night, coming in from the north-west; he soon realises that it's not coming here, but rather heading around the North Circular. He and Mike follow on the bike, and sure enough the trace goes into the Romford hospital; they get the licence plate of the car, then call ahead to Veronica and Chris, who go ahead to Northfield Gardens to observe. This time the car goes all the way back to the house, where the passenger (clearly laden down with something) enters number 20 (and his bug drops off Harry's tracker).
It's research time. Mike and Veronica track down the property ownership records; all the houses in Northfield Gardens and nearby are owned by General Dynamics Property, which presumably makes them available to employees. However, utility bills are in the residents' names; with a bit of research, Mike takes advantage of a security hole to discover that (a) number 20's bills go to a "G. Marks"; (b) about half the houses in the street are empty; and (c) number 19, directly across the road, is one of them. (Veronica travels up to confirm the latter two data.)
That night, Mike and Harry go back to Watford with supplies, break in to number 19, and set up a basic observation post.
Harry waits for the neighbours to leave, then chisels a couple of holes in the front-to-back dividing wall for easier observation without being seen. Later in the day, Veronica and Chris join them. All seems to be going well; one of the targets (heavily muffled) leaves number 20 and walks down the street, carrying a large can of some sort.
A few minutes later, another of the targets leaves, but comes straight across the road to number 19 and knocks heavily. When he gets no answer, he breaks down the door... and a similar splintering sound comes from the back. The party piles out of the back window, onto the low roof below it, and runs down the garden, abandoning the tripod for the camera but gathering up all the other gear; as they go, they see the first target standing in the back door, pouring petrol-smelling fluid out of his can. He turns round to face them and throws the can at Chris (missing); there's a "whoomph" from the front of the house, but he just stands in the doorway rather than following them.
The party takes a roundabout route back to their vehicles, but there doesn't seem to be any pursuit. The fire brigade arrives within a few minutes, and the damage is minimal.
The party decides that, while this is not a very subtle message, the general meaning is quite plain: further surveillance would probably be unwelcome. Harry decides to talk to his military friends to see if anything unusually weird has happened in the context of Naval Spetsnaz lately...
At about 3.30am, Mike is woken from dreams of fish-and-chips by a note on his pillow (smelling of vinegar). His burglar alarm hasn't gone off, possibly because it's been torn off the wall; he'll need a new front door lock too. The note reads (in Russian): "Help. Destroy (by) cold."
He, Veronica and Chris discuss what to do next while waiting for the locksmith; Chris picks up a big Russian dictionary, phrasebook and grammar. They compile a message, suggesting a meeting in person at Mike's flat that night at 3am.
Veronica drives to Watford to drop off the note, aiming to confuse any watchers by knocking on doors nearby to do marketing surveys and dropping off flyers if there's no answer.
That evening, at 11pm, a figure opens the door of Mike's flat (left ajar for the purpose). It's definitely one of the people they've been following. He motions the party back, to the extent that they're cramped into the kitchen, and gets out an A4 pad and marker pen. A very slow and basic conversation begins, during which it transpires:
- There are four of these people;
- They would very much like to be destroyed rather than continue in constant pain and "bessmyertniy" (undying);
- General Dynamics made them this way;
- Cold is the means by which to destroy them; a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher should be sufficient.
After some misunderstandings, the visitor leaves.
Chris scouts the old waterworks at Ealing, looking for tanks and reservoirs that are sufficiently intact to hold a quantity of liquid.
Veronica travels to Watford again to deliver another note giving the rendezvous time and place. On the way back, she notices she's picked up a tail; she eventually abandons her car and goes home by Underground.
Chris hires a medium-sized truck, and picks up two dewars of liquid nitrogen from BOC.
The party converges on the waterworks, and on the dot of 11pm the Spetsnaz team arrives. In a police car. With bullet holes in it. They file silently into an old water tank, and Chris and Mike pour the liquid nitrogen onto them - at which point they dissolve, leaving only shreds of clothing and their dog-tags (which Mike recovers).
Chris travels out to pick up Veronica's car. Being a sensibly cautious sort of person, he looks it over, and spots the cigarette-packet-sized tracking device attached to the frame under the rear bumper. He drives to South Mimms services to meet Mike; they eventually manage to detach the device and leave it there.
Harry reports on what his contacts had discovered: there was a training operation in Gibraltar about six months ago in which four Naval Spetsnaz died, though there's no more detail available; it was hushed up quite effectively.
Veronica receives two notes: one, via anonymous email, is from someone who claims to have seen something like the robot she wrote about, and asks to set up a meeting at Duxford next Saturday. The other is from a Consuela Jones, whose father was apparently the victim of the night of Saturday 22 August. They meet, with Mike and Chris as backup; Consuela seems to be driven to find out what happened to her father, and who was responsible. Veronica, Mike and Chris explain the events of the previous month. Consuela agrees to join the others for the trip to Duxford.
Veronica is starting to find Chris' over-solicitousness a bit cloying.
It's a sunny day in Duxford, the last Spitfire is flying, and Veronica leaves a note suggesting that her unnamed informant meet by the nosewheel of the Victor bomber - it's out in the open, and there's enough noise from the flight line that eavesdropping will be difficult at best.
The informant is a young man of military bearing, who explains that he flies helicopters for the Army. In July, Tojicorp sent several of their Cambridge staff, both Research and Internal Security, to Salisbury Plain to conduct a test/demonstration of their Integrated Land Warfare System; apparently this is supposed to be a semi-autonomous drone, to be sent into cities ahead of the troops. It's more expensive than a soldier, but also more replaceable. It looked remarkably similar, in retrospect, to the photographs of the killer.
Apparently the demonstration went wrong, and the thing's internal laser was not limited to "tag" power levels. It killed one Tojicorp trooper (the Internal Security troops were acting as the opposing force), and the leader of the unit lured it away from the other soldiers, then called down mortar fire on his position. He was killed, the robot was destroyed, and the program was apparently cancelled. So what the thing was doing a month later in London...
The informant coughs and collapses; blood starts to spread on his shirt. Chris pushes Veronica to the ground, then looks around for anyone who might be aiming a weapon. He sees someone near the flightline in a dark suit, pointing what might be an umbrella in a distinctively "aiming" manner, and takes off towards him. Mike attempts first aid on the informant, with little success; he's obviously taken a major wound, but he does manage to gasp "Captain Michael Stern - leader of the Tojicorp troops" before he loses consciousness. Harry stays back, scanning the crowd for other possible hostiles, as does Consuela.
Chris closes with the shooter, and takes him by surprise with a spinning kick. The fight goes back and forth, with the shooter disabling Chris' left arm with his weapon (which is a rod about eighteen inches long and half an inch wide, which makes no noise or flash when it's operated); eventually, after Chris knocks him off his feet for the second time and kicks him in the ribs, he gives up the fight (and consciousness).
Veronica gets through on her phone to the first aid crew, who start to move towards the Victor. She and Mike split up, and they all variously try to evade the rather large number of dark-suited people (who also have earpieces, throat microphones and big sunglasses; they're clearly not trying to blend in at all) who are suddenly appearing in the crowd.
They have varying degrees of success. Mike plays the innocent bystander; they take his arm, and when he raises a fuss numb his left leg. Chris tries to duck into the cafe, is cut off, and when he tries to dodge the man grabbing for him finds his legs not working at all. Veronica tries to duck round the hangar towards which the group is being herded, and is caught; Consuela dives into the hangar, in the hope of being able to get out through another exit. She's caught short, though, by the ball of glowing red gas that's in there, and the rest of the group is brought in (except for Harry, who seems to have managed to escape). The attackers (who have not spoken at all) gesture towards the ball, clearly intending the group to step into it; Mike determines that it is indeed something gaseous being somehow held in roughly spherical form, then tries to throw the man holding him into it. They both stumble in, and only the suited man comes out of the other side. Chris is pushed in next, followed by Consuela; Veronica walks in rather than be thrown.
And they find themselves... elsewhere. The most immediate information is the air, which is somewhat high in sulphurous compounds and relatively low in oxygen. It's very smoggy, with weak sunshine barely penetrating a murky brown sky. The gravity's a little lighter than it was, too; it's also very hot and dry. The ground is smooth, with an assortment of metal shavings and broken parts; buildings are all around, mostly skeletal structures of girders, with various apparently random machinery inside. The exception to the generally cuboid layout is a low round building, towards which the group proceeds. After a certain amount of fiddling with the door controls, clearly not designed for human hands, they get inside through an airlock; the air inside is slightly cooler, and while very humid does at least provide a bit more oxygen.
Inside is one large room, with windows showing a panoramic view of the outside. There's an assortment of junked equipment lying around - it doesn't seem to be of human manufacture. There are also several sets of what seems to be some sort of alien breathing apparatus; this proves to contain compressed air and a water spray system, and to be usable by humans if the latter is turned off.
During these investigations, the group observes several vehicles (or robots) passing by. The first is about fifteen feet long, built quite low to the ground, with a pair of manipulating arms (not suited to the door controls) and running on a pair of tracks; it comes from the "north" (arbitrarily designated) and heads "west". A few minutes later, a smaller robot of the same general design follows it; it fires a laser westwards, and heads off after it. Later still, the original robot or its twin comes back, carrying a humanoid robot impaled on one manipulator; it takes it into one of the factory buildings, and returns without it.
Mike and Consuela explore using the breathing apparatus; it looks as though the building is the front end of some sort of recycling plant. One interesting conduit leading away from it ends (and is capped) in mid-air.
On their return, the group decides to try to flag down one of the larger robots, on the basis that those seem most likely to be intelligent. This goes unresolved; the first one Chris waves to responds by firing a laser at him, which he barely manages to dodge. Consuela attempts to distract its attention from him, and succeeds; her left leg is very badly burned. When they both return to the dome, the robot appears to lose interest and leaves.
Shortly thereafter, a humanoid robot approaches the recycling plant, passes behind it, and doesn't re-emerge. Mike and Chris go out to investigate, and find a triangular patch on the large pipe that ends in mid-air; the welds are still warm. Mike starts to hack it apart with his penknife saw blade, and sees inside a red glowing gas cloud similar to the one that brought them here. Chris fetches the others, and Mike crawls through; he finds himself on a concrete surface on a moonlit night, near water. It transpires that he and the others can still talk; he confirms that it seems to be safe-ish, and they follow him through.
The air is breathable - not very nice, but it's what they're used to. The scene is familiar; it's the quay where Mike, Chris, Veronica and Harry tied up their boat when they were chasing the robot along the riverbank back in August.
A female voice with a mid-Atlantic accent calls to them over the water. "Well, you don't look like killer robots..."
She offers the group a lift, and lands in a very heavily-stealthed tiltrotor aircraft - it's barely audible even up close, has a variable-pattern skin, and probably doesn't register much on radar either. She looks distinctly unhealthy, but seems to be holding together. While en route to the Royal Free, she explains that she knows something of dimensional gateways, and invites the group to lunch with her the next afternoon. Her card (for Elizabeth Camberley) gives an address in the Enhanced Security Zone.
At the hospital, Chris and Consuela get treated; Veronica calls Harry, who after having evaded the men in black decided to go home where his defences are. They meet later in the morning. Harry is somewhat disbelieving of Veronica's story, but grudgingly accepts that it may be valid.
Mike calls Dr Slaughter, and being concerned about the possibility of hallucinogens visits the Royal Free to drop off a blood sample before all traces have been metabolised. (The next Wednesday, this comes back negative.) He and Harry go back to Duxford to pick up the vehicles that were left there, while the others visit Elizabeth.
At lunch in her luxurious flat, Elizabeth explains - with some side notes about how this must all sound completely insane - what's wrong with the world. In 1947, a flying saucer crashed at Roswell. One of the two aliens who survived the crash also survived human attempts at first aid; contact had been made. The aliens (whose main ship was further out in the system) were a research expedition, mostly looking at gas giants and their moons, but with some interest in human cultures as well. They hadn't previously met such a violent culture involving sapient beings; for the mental health of humanity, contact was kept a secret.
Some time in the early 1970s, the aliens found something on Io. Elizabeth doesn't know what it was; but overnight, all the aliens turned from friendly to thoroughly inimical. She theorises that, since the aliens used telepathy as a normal part of their society, they may have been peculiarly vulnerable to some sort of mental takeover.
It was a few years after this that psychic powers started showing up in humans. But it was at about the same time that nightmares started coming true; some magical practitioners found they had real power to raise monsters, but nobody had been trying to raise dark elves, or vampires...
(She believes it was the dark elves who supplied the men in black at Duxford. But she has no idea why.)
Whatever it is that's controlling the aliens, the most plausible theory is that it feeds on human suffering. It would be nice to get an expedition to Io to find out more; but humanity has space shuttles and experimental ion drives, while the aliens have anti-gravity flying saucers. Even so, fighting on a small scale to keep the influenced aliens from controlling humanity completely seems to have a worthwhile effect.
Elizabeth explains that she is able through psychic powers to jump between universes - though most of them are much smaller than the one in which Earth resides. She offers to teach the ability, which she calls "Dimension Walk", to the group; Veronica expresses an interest. She also supplies a microwave projector to Consuela, who expressed an interest in an anti-robot weapon; it's a large tube connected to a bulky back-mounted power pack.
Mike and Veronica visit Elizabeth to drop off the chips they recovered from the "rat". Mike has a couple more questions: roughly, "We're in a things man was not meant to know situation here, aren't we?", to which the answer is "maybe, but I hope not"; and "We've seen almost everything from the human meme pool come out of these worlds, yes? Which way round is the cause and effect? Could there have been contact before the Io event?", to which the answer is "we don't know, but there's no reliable sighting of any of this nastiness before the business on Io".
Chris is away for a weekend's filming on Zombie Terror III: This Time They're Russian.
Elizabeth calls Veronica over, and asks for a favour. One of the other groups she's been tracking has vanished, after they'd said (on Thursday evening) that they were about to investigate a site on the eastern edge of the Docklands Security Zone. Elizabeth deliberately doesn't know much about the group, which consists of a computer cracker (Serafim Kuznyetsov), a pyrokinetic (Julia Shaw) and a telekinetic ex-SAS trooper (Eric Drake). But she does know they were investigating missing-persons reports, and were looking in particular for a "Doctor Takacs".
Mike checks registered addresses in the relevant patch of Docklands, which lies just outside the Zone and is popular with small companies. Mostly it's mailbox-rental and similar businesses; the biggest presence is the head office of Recondite Components, an electronics development firm.
Dr Laszlo Takacs has published a number of papers dealing with theoretical concepts in electronics, most recently a proposal for a very high density storage medium. Mike looks through some of them, but they're advanced stuff even for him.
Mike and Veronica take a look around; it's pretty dead at weekends. It looks as though the upper floors of many of the buildings are vacant. One pair of buildings that stands out has heavy railings completely surrounding it; an address check reveals that this is Telehouse, formerly a major internet switch point, though much of its job has now been taken over by facilities inside the Zone.
Mike and Harry take a look at the waste ground at the other end of the Blackwall Tunnel; the remains of the Millennium Dome, and the methane flare stacks, are home to a great many vagrants, none of whom seems to have seen anything useful.
Consuela calls the offices of Recondite, to be told that there's no Dr Takacs listed in the internal phone book. She also speaks to the secretary of William Anderson, the Technical Director, who politely explains that it's not policy to verify employee details.
Mike tracks down an email address for Dr Takacs, but doesn't use it. He also checks the citations on Takacs' papers; it looks as if he comes up with some major theoretical breakthrough, then several months later there's a flurry of papers as people try to work out how to apply it. He doesn't seem to have any formal academic or corporate affiliation, though.
Mike also checks some cracker message boards; someone who might well be Serafim was missed on Thursday evening.
Harry goes back to the area at lunchtime; there are a lot more people around.
Harry checks with his contacts, and establishes that Eric Drake was quietly asked to leave the forces rather than face a formal court-martial around five years ago; he's thought to have been working as a mercenary since then.
Harry and Mike walk along the Blackwall Tunnel walkways. In the newer tunnel, all is as expected; in the older one, which passes under the edge of the zone, the doors to ventilation shafts are clearly used more often (and locked with modern and complex locks).
Harry spots a camera, that's been left watching one of the doors. Mike interrogates it with cyberpsi, and establishes that it's motion-triggered and has taken a 20-second clip. He abstracts the data and drains the camera's battery. On later viewing, this proves to show (at about 12.50am on Friday) a pair of humanoid figures coming out of the doorway and walking north; their faces aren't clearly visible, but their arms and legs seem too spindly to be normal for humans. They're also bald.
Veronica, armed with this information, checks back in with Elizabeth during their regular weekly training session.
Consuela, with a sob-story about a missing relative whom she's trying to track down, hits up the various security guards in the relevant area for copies of the video footage from the previous week (sometimes assisted by mild bribery). Mostly she succeeds. On careful and painstaking analysis, it becomes clear that the three missing investigators were around at 11pm or so, trying various office back doors (all locked). At about midnight, three black-clad figures - very possibly the same people - climbed over the fence into Telehouse and were not seen again. At about 1am, the spindly figures are seen climbing over the wall from the Blackwall Tunnel and going into Telehouse via a back gate.
Plotting ensues. Mike does some research on Telehouse's security (which turns out to be rather less impressive than it appears from the advertising, since the building is not segmented at the raised-floor level). Veronica plans to move through the crawlspaces seeing what she can pick up telepathically.
Veronica spends the day working with Harry, practicing her technique for getting through crawlspaces. Mike sets up a rack, apparently full of servers, but with space for someone to hide inside if necessary; he also sets up the actual server (that will be at the bottom of the rack), so that it will fail impressively when required. (It will also send out email every half hour if not prevented by someone on-site.) He makes an appointment with K*net to install the rack in their suite in Telehouse on Thursday morning; and rents a van. This is all quite pricey, but just about affordable...
Harry and Chris equip themselves with spray-cans and high-reflectivity vests, and start measuring and spraying obscure marks on the roads outside Telehouse. Consuela stays at Mike's place to coordinate communications.
Mike and Veronica tool up, meet Dave from K*net and install the server in K*net's suite at the eastern end of the fifth floor. Mike starts fiddling with it, and eventually Dave finishes his book, gets bored and leaves them to it.
Veronica enters the crawlspace, and after some searching discovers that there are indeed minds in range; she touches one that's thinking in a language she doesn't immediately recognise. She climbs a cable riser to the sixth floor, and finds a section of the floorspace towards the western end of the building that's been blocked off by scaffolding (perhaps to bear extra weight); there's a power cable going into that area, but no sign of data connections and rather less noise of machinery than has been usual so far. This area doesn't touch the main corridor or any of the outside walls of the building. There are several other minds in there - at least six - some of which have mind shields.
She climbs to the hanging ceiling space of the sixth floor, and finds that the same area is blocked by steel sheeting. She feels an itch at the back of her neck, something Elizabeth has told her is associated with certain sorts of machinery - and generally to be avoided.
They join Chris and Consuela and report to Elizabeth. An assault by tiltrotor is one possibility; but Elizabeth is very hesitant to go in without having a better idea of what sort of opposition and defences are present (particularly any surface-to-air weapons).
Veronica, Harry, Chris and Consuela go on a helicopter sight-seeing tour, and by asking to see the remains of the Dome at the right moment get their pilot to pass over Telehouse (flying over the Zone is very much prohibited except for specific types of traffic). Harry spots a rectangular outline, matching the area Veronica described; it's very faint and hard to see, and the roof within it looks much the same as the roof outside it, but it's certainly unusual. There are also four odd-looking ducts, one at each corner of the area (just outside it).
Harry decides that he'll go back in on Monday, with Mike; he spends a few days getting hold of small quiet hand drills, optical fibre, ethernet interfaces for his small periscope-capable cameras, and such like equipment.
Mike, Harry and Veronica return to Telehouse, with Harry disguised as a marketing-type who's complaining about the server not working reliably. As before, Mike stays behind to keep an eye on things.
Harry plants ring charges on the power lines to the sealed area, and takes a look around. It seems to be solid half-inch steel, though some of the seams are a bit sloppy, and he's able to insert probes at the corners and (with some drilling) along the sides. He sees:
- A small bare metal cell;
- A toilet;
- A work-room, where someone is soldering something;
- A large room, perhaps 40'x40' when the entire area is 60'x60', containing what can only be described as a flying saucer. It hovers in place, nearly silently. On infra-red, guards can be seen on the other side of the internal partition walls.
- Another cell, containing Kuznyetsov and Drake, as well as a third man whom he doesn't recognise. (On later checking, this turns out to be a rather thinner and more worried Dr Takacs than his public photographs show.)
Some cameras are left behind, and it's established that there are two guards and four technicians; the latter are periodically removing bits of equipment from the saucer, working on them, and putting them back.
Harry doesn't spend as long as he'd like, as he gets a feeling that things are going wrong. Indeed, he and Veronica only just manage to get back and changed before a security guard comes in, explaining that he's doing a random sweep. He does seem very interested in shining his torch at the floor, and some of the team notice that it seems to have a display screen of some sort - infra-red perhaps?
Elizabeth is very interested in all of this, but points out that (while she'd _love_ to get her hands on a saucer - she's read all the instruction manuals, and is sure she could fly one) they still don't know about the air defences.
The team travels to the remains of the Dome, since this seems the best vantage point for a shot of the roof. Mike, Chris and Consuela climb one of the remaining towers (Chris and Consuela for moral support and technical advice, and Mike for photography). Mike gets a few decent pictures, and they all make it off before the top of the tower detaches itself and collapses. Harry recognises the shape of the housings, in close-up; they're surface-to-air missile carriers, typically with three ready IR missiles in each.
Elizabeth confirms that she won't be able to get her tiltrotor in against that sort of opposition. However, she does know some competent and enthusiastically violent people; if the missiles can be destroyed by some other means, she can get them into position and storm the sealed area.
So, that afternoon, Mike, Veronica and Harry get into Telehouse again. This time, Veronica stays with the server, while Harry and Mike head for the roof. While Mike confuses the lock, Harry heads out, keeping out of the limited field of view of the cameras there. He confirms that the roof is designed to hinge open, and places his explosives on the four missile canisters.
At around 3am, Harry detonates the explosives on the missile canisters. Elizabeth comes in in the tiltrotor, and Harry and Veronica (both of whom know the layout of the sealed area) rappel down. Elizabeth's friends, who under their balaclavas and jumpsuits are suspiciously metallic and shiny, simply jump down, firing at the cameras as they go.
Harry breaches the locks of the stairwell door, the internal door and (with a rather larger charge) the door of the sealed area. One guard gets caught behind it; Elizabeth's friends dispose of the others, and the technicians.
Serafim, Eric and Dr Takacs are in the cell where they were before; Julia is next door. They're escorted out by two of Elizabeth's friends
- let's call them "the robots" - while the others secure the area and post guards. Harry and Veronica quickly check the other rooms, then enter the main hangar area; the control panel for the doors seems also to control the missiles, judging by the number of damage indicators that are flashing, but Harry gets the roof open without too much trouble.
The flying saucer has two levels, a lower cargo hold and an upper area split between cockpit/crew accommodation and engineering. The three-phase cable runs into the latter area; Elizabeth joines the team, and gives Harry a very rapid and basic course on how to quick-start a fusion reactor ("press this and this; wait till this needle gets to here; press this; do not press anything else") while she investigates the controls...
which seem to be missing. She calls for Mike, who senses the electrical fields in the area, and gets a very basic and slow manoeuvreing capability (while the reactor is warming up). Once he establishes a cyberpsi interface, though, it's much clearer; he finds himself floating in mid-air above the hangar.
Five of the robots leave in the tilt-rotor with the ex-prisoners; the remaining five stay in the saucer. Mike follows Elizabeth's directions, and flies towards the Thames Barrier: but a tickle in the back of the head indicates that he has company in the air, three "bright" points approaching rapidly. He climbs fast, some 30,000 feet in ten seconds; Harry observes that whatever noises fusion reactors are supposed to make, grinding is probably not one of them. On the other hand, as far as the occupants are concerned, the saucer doesn't seem to be moving at all.
The pursuing craft fire, which seem to be keeping up quite easily, fire beam weapons of some sort; Mike returns fire, fumbling semi-randomly with the unlabelled controls in his new sensorium, and manages to damage two of them before the saucer takes a major hit and starts to descend rapidly. Somewhere over France, Mike continues to fiddle with safety-guarded controls; Harry is somewhat startled as a large metal shield slams down over the reactor, and the lights go out. Mike notices a bright light dropping away from below the saucer, and realises that he's just ejected the reactor.
With a bit more fumbling, emergency braking is deployed, and the saucer comes to a soft-ish landing in a wheat field somewhere in northern France. The team, Elizabeth and the robots leave; the saucer melts, forming a cool metal puddle which gradually soaks into the ground, leaving only a crop circle behind.
The team holes up in a barn while fighters, then helicopters, scour the area; after several hours, Elizabeth manages to bring in the tiltrotor on remote control, and flies it back to London with everyone aboard.
(This campaign is now on hiatus.)