"This is impossible!" Marie muttered, tapping buttons on the keyboard in front of her, requesting confirmation on the information that was flickering on the computer monitor. The words;

/INFORMATION VERIFIED. ABNORMALLY LARGE AMOUNT OF SPECTRAL ACTIVITY REPORTED IN AREA./ Flashed before her eyes.

"Banks!" she snapped into her mouthpiece, "Here, now!"

Moments later Chief Officer James Banks, a tall, balding man with a face full of grey stubble and steel-grey eyes strode into the room. He cast a curious glance at Ellie.

"Who's that?"

"Fletcher's kid," replied Marie impatiently, "Have you seen this data that's just come through from the city-wide scanners? There's practically activity in every household!"

"What?" the man leaned over her and typed something out, the confirmation message sprang up again, then a city map that showed blue marks everywhere. "Damn it! What is that?"

"Hang on," Marie pressed her earpiece into her ear, listening intently, "Apparently the phones are ringing off the hook .... we don't have enough P.I units to cope with the demands!"

"I've never seen this much activity...." James frowned.

"Do you think it's connected to the castle case? Scanners show an abnormal amount of activity there, too."

"Have you got anyone on that case?"

"We sent Jackson in earlier, but he disappeared. Fletcher went about half an hour ago and found Jackson's backup team dead in the castle hallway."

"Where's Fletcher now?" "Still there, he's checking the place out."

"Get him up."

Marie tapped something out on the keyboard, then said:

"Fletcher, you there?"

There was a moment's pause and a hiss of static, then Alan's voice replied:

/"Receiving."/

"Anything to report?" Asked James.

/"Oh, is that you, Chief?"/ Alan's disembodied voice asked, /"Nothing to report except the weak ectoplasmic radiation Alex recorded earlier. I must admit; I'm a bit nervous about facing a D.F six spook!"/

"I don't blame you," replied James, "Scanners are showing spooks all over the city, at least five times the number in the crisis three years ago."

Alan swore.

/"Damn, you're joking?"/

"I'm afraid not, Fletcher. We think there's a connection, can you see anything at all that could be helpful?"

/"Well, the spook can obviously move solid objects like a poltergeist; one of the backups looks like he's been strangled and Alex is nowhere in sight."/

"He could have just walked away," Marie suggested.

/"Nah, the floor's so dusty that I'd see his footprints,"/ said Alan, /"No drag marks either; looks like he's been carried off. I've never seen a spook that could carry a full grown man off before."/

"No, the P.I's that have are in no condition to tell us what they saw, either."

/"Thanks Marie, that's a real comfort, do you know that? Oh s...!" / Alan's earpiece fell silent.

"Fletcher! What's going on?" Marie snapped.

/"The temperature just dropped about twenty degrees."/ Alan replied. Marie tapped at the keyboard; data confirmed an unusual drop in temperature.

"You see anything?" James asked.

/"No, nothing. I don't like this. Oh...." /he swore loudly.

"What is it Fletcher? The D.F six?"

/"Forget the D.F six, Marie, have a look at the data! My Ectoplasm detector's gone off the scale!"/

Marie checked and swore.

"By the Five Suns!" cursed James, that's got to be at least a twelve!"

Alan swore again;/ "I'm a dead man!"/

"Calm down Fletcher .... maybe the detector's faulty." James reassured him, "And stop swearing , what if your daughter wakes up?" he cast another look at the sleeping Ellie, who was curled up like a cat on the chair, the thumb of one hand jammed in her mouth, the other clutching Alan's coat tightly around her.

/"Is she ok?"/

"She's fine, Fletcher, she's safe enough here."

/"Keep your guard up .... there are spooks everywhere else, who's to say they won't infect the station?"/

"The alarms will warn us if they do get in."

/"The alarms weren't designed to pick up ectoplasm as faint as a D.F twelve!"/ replied Alan, /"I'm surprised the detector picked it up ... I must have knocked the dial to full frequency or something....."/

"Get out of there," James said, "You're UV gun's not powerful enough for a D.F twelve."

"He can't, the spook locked him in," said Marie.

"What? Why didn't you send backup?"

"He cancelled it."

/"I'm not leaving till I find Alex."/ Alan said firmly.

"Get out of a window if you have to, but get off the premises. That's an order Fletcher!" snapped James. There was silence for a long while, then....

/"Understood,"/ said Alan sullenly and his earpiece went dead.

"Alert everyone, Marie," James said then, "The city's to be evacuated, everyone is to be taken down to the Spook-proof bunkers. I want no one except the P.I's left above ground, understood?"

"Understood." Replied Marie, typing out the order and sending an urgent broadcast throughout the city. Outside, the alarm klaxon began to wail.

"Is Fletcher out?" James asked anxiously, "I don't want the press to find out if we've lost two P.I's in one night!"

Marie tapped once more at the keyboard and Alan's data flickered up on the screen.

/"What, Marie?"/ snapped Alan.

"Are you out yet?"

/"Give me a chance, it's barely five minutes since I got the order! What do you think I am ... oh my...."/

There was silence for a long while, punctuated only by Alan's heavy breathing in the frigid air.

"What's up Fletcher?" Asked James.

/"I saw something....!"/

"Calm down .... what exactly can you see?"

/"I'm surrounded .... damn, I haven't got time to power up the UV!"/

"How many, Alan?"

/"Marie, who cares how many .... there are enough!"/

There was a sudden loud scream, followed by a crash and loud wailing. There was a hiss of static and Alan's Communication Unit fell silent.

"Damn!" said Marie, typing something into the computer. A logo sprang up on screen and she said, "This is Paranormal Investigation Unit three, Marie Anderson reporting. Latest scanner results show an abnormal amount of Paranormal Activity within the city, possibly originating at the old castle on Maple Hill. Emergency precautions have been put into place. We have lost contact with P.I's Alex Jackson and Alan Fletcher. Request orders from HQ, over."

A moment later words flickered up on the screen.

APPLY EXTREME EMERGENCY MEASURES. EMPLOY CODE RED.

"Code Red?" asked James, sounding dazed, but that's...."

"Request confirmation on recent orders." Marie stated, "Extreme measures suggested. Should Code Red be employed? Over."

ORDERS CONFIRMED. EMPLOY CODE RED IMMEDIATELY.

Marie fell silent for a while, staring uncomprehendingly at the screen. After what seemed like a lifetime she turned to James.

"Officer...?"

"Orders are orders," sighed James, "Spread the word .... the city must be destroyed!"

*

Alan seemed to fall for what seemed like hours, finally crashing into the dusty couch where, hours before, Alex Jackson had been thrown.

Alan choked on a mouthful of dust, rolled off the couch and ducked behind it. Through the corner of his eye he caught sight of something gliding eerily past the bolted door and wondered, with a stab of terror, how he was going to get out.

Casting his smashed earpiece aside, he began to sneak around the walls, heading for a door at the opposite end of the hall. The spooks were dispersing, evidently assuming that he had fallen to his death.

He made it through the door and, despite the fact that he knew that most spooks didn't use doors, closed it behind him and sank against the wood, breathing heavily.

"Marie, I'm gonna kill you if I ever make it out of here!" he vowed, brushing sweat-drenched hair back out of his face. He'd been planning on escaping through the smashed window in the hallway ... but he couldn't go back that way now; apparently the hall was a hotspot for the spooks. There was nothing for it ... he'd have to go deeper into the castle and find another way out.

Still breathing heavily he stood up and grasped his UV gun firmly, even though he knew it was going to be little use against spooks as strong as the ones he had just encountered.

Suddenly something caught his eye, something small that glowed with an eerie light. Alan bent and picked the item up .... it was a phial full of what seemed to be ectoplasm.

"Alex? You here?" he yelled, pocketing the sample, "Hey, Alex?"

His voice echoed eerily around him, but he didn't care. He didn't even care that his cry could attract more spooks, all he could think of was finding Alex and getting out of this damn place.

"Hey, AJ! You about?"

Then he heard it, a kind of metallic rattle somewhere above him. Alan looked up. The torch on his helmet cast a little circle of light on the mouldy ceiling. The clanging came again, louder this time.

"Alex?" Alan called. What in the world could be causing a metallic sound in this old place? Scaffolding, perhaps. Had there been any restoration work done on the castle before it was shut down?

"Alex?" he called again. There was another clang, the sound of something fairly heavy moving in the room above him, then a much more rhythmic, repeated clanging, as if someone was trying to gain his attention.

"Ok, AJ - I hear you! I'm on my way up, ok?" it had to be him! No spook could mimic the sound of a man crawling across the ground. Alan sprinted towards a flight of stairs at the end of the corridor, ignoring the fact that the castle was neglected and therefore dangerous ..... he didn't care if the stairs could crumble beneath him, he just had to get to Alex.

The clanging got louder with every step he took; it sounded as though Alex was desperate to be found. At the top of the stairs Alan paused, listening, trying to determine which direction the sound was coming from. He took a guess, sprinted towards the nearest room and yanked the door open.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHH!"

He leapt back, instinctively throwing himself to the ground and covering his head. Something pale and translucent, like smoke, shot over him at such a speed that its slipstream ruffled Alan's hair. Alan rolled onto his back, raised his UV gun and fired. The spook disintegrated, showering him with ectoplasm ... at least it couldn't have had a very high DF. Insubstantial - little more than a wisp of ectoplasm. In fact, what was it doing here? High DF spooks didn't usually put up with the presence of weaker spirits ..... or was it a different matter with spooks of as high a frequency as the ones encountered here?

"This...." he gasped, "....is bad!"

He stood up shakily, trying to brush the worst of the ectoplasm off his clothes. The clanging came again, more persistent this time. Staggering a little, Alan cautiously entered the room from which the spook had just emerged.

"Alex!" he sprinted across the room, to where moonlight pouring in through gaps in the grimy windows fell over the dark shape of a man on the floor. Alex Jackson's face was deathly white, save for a few dark streaks of fresh blood trickling from several cuts beneath his sweat-drenched hair. His right leg was at an odd angle and his breathing was ragged. In his hand he held a crowbar, which he had apparently been banging against a metallic bin on the ground next to him.

"You're a sight for sore eyes!" he gave Alan a week smile, then grimaced as pain apparently shot through his leg, "I thought you were off duty?"

"So did I," Alan replied grimly, examining the deep gash in his friend's leg and tutting, "It's broken, AJ."

"I know it's damn broken! I heard it break when the spook dropped me in here ..... through the roof, I'll have you know!" he nodded at the ceiling, in which was a large, Alex-shaped hole. "Get me out of here, Alan!"

"That might be easier said than done; there's a lot of activity from high DF spooks in the entrance hall. And from what I've heard all other exits in this place are walled up."

"Then get Marie to send backup!"

"Can't, my CU got smashed up."

"You're kidding?"

"I don't joke about things that could affect my life, AJ. Where's yours?"

"The spook that brought me up here took it."

"Damn!"

"Damn," Alex echoed, "Dunno about you, Al, but I want to get outta here!"

"Me too, preferably on my feet and not in a wooden box." Alex looked around him, assessing his surroundings, "We could smash a window, I suppose, and get out that way. But downstairs is riddled with spooks and I don't much like the idea of jumping through a window at this height.

"Al, the whole place is riddled with spooks!" Alex said, "Everywhere! Alan .... they're breeding!"

"What?" Alan was stunned, "AJ, that's not possible .... spooks don't breed...."

"They must do, why else would there be low DF's co-existing with high DF's? I don't know how they're doing it, but they're multiplying and they're using this place as a breeding ground."

Alan was too stunned to speak, but Alex continued to speak anyway, without giving him any opening.

"Think about it, it's perfect! We've never given spooks an opportunity to breed before .... we've stopped them before they've had a chance, at least in all the cases we're aware of. Spooks couldn't breed, they could only materialize or manifest themselves from the spirits of the dead . or wherever it is they come from. But here, Alan .... here they have a unique opportunity. One fairly high DF spook scares off all humans, the castle's declared unsafe and closed to the public. Now there's a large, lonely place that won't be visited again for nearly half a decade. Spooks can grow, reach Detection Frequencies previously unregistered, in a place where they won't be disturbed and they can find ways to multiply.

"But they're not living organisms...."

"We know very little about them, even in the Paranormal Investigations Unit. We know they're not corporeal; they seem to be made up of some vapour that can pass through walls and doors, we know they can be violent, we know they can manifest themselves in all sorts of forms, so we assume they have some form of intelligence. However, we've never had the chance to examine them. For all we know they could be able to breathe, eat, reproduce, etcetera."

Alan was shaking his head, "In order for something to be alive, it has to be able to move, respire, sense, grow, excrete and take in some form of nutrition .... the only two we know spooks can do is sense and move .... living organisms have to do all six."

"Not necessarily. Take the virus, for example. Scientists will argue with you that a virus is not a living organism because it can't do all the 'MRS GREN' stuff you just described. Yet it manages to get into the body, find a cell and use the nucleus to reproduce itself. This suggests some form of intelligence, or, at the least, instinct. Using that theory, we could argue that spooks are life-forms, too."

"Don't go saying that in public; they'll be telling us that spooks have rights and we can't destroy them." Alan shuddered at the thought. "Ok, so if what you're saying is true and spooks can reproduce, how is it we've never noticed it before and if it's because we've been annihilating them all before they have a chance, where are they all coming from?"

"I'm not saying that we have caught them all, Al. That's impossible .... there's always going to be cases we don't know about."

"But we have proof that spooks are manifestations of the dead."

"What we have are a number of photographs of supposed spooks in graveyards, most of them are fakes or double exposures and those that are genuine don't prove anything .... the spook might just be haunting the graveyard, without investigation there's no prove that that's where it originated from."

"So you're saying spooks have been breeding under our noses the whole time?"

"Why not? People with rodent infestations often never see the nest, only the fully-grown animals. Spooks could be the same." Alex seemed to have completely forgotten about his foot. His face was flushed with a mixture of excitement and fear. Alan felt his stomach clench .... that was all they needed ... broody poltergeists!

"So that's why they're attacking humans?"

"They're protecting their young."

"Then they're not doing a very good job; I just blasted a low DF spook on my way in here!"

Alex nodded, "I saw it, do you know what it was doing?"

Alan shook his head.

"There were two higher DF's here earlier; I think they must have been the parents. The way one of them dropped me in here, right in front of the little one ..... it reminded me of the way birds bring insects to young in the nest."

"No!"

"Yes. The little one was just about to take a bite out of me, or something when you showed up." Alan paused, "So if that was the baby ..... where's Mommy and Daddy?"

They both fell silent, exchanging looks off utter terror. Alan lifted his UV gun, cranking the power up as high as it would go and praying nothing would turn up before it had a chance to charge.

"That's no good, Alan ... they're too powerful!"

"I've got to do something! Where's your gun?"

"They took that, too."

"Damn!"

Alan scanned the room, looking for anything unusual. It all seemed quiet enough, but as he had never been in this sort of situation before he couldn't be altogether sure that this was a good thing. Then he heard it; a slow creaking noise just below him. He looked down, tapped his foot against the floorboards, then crouched down and laid his ear against the floor.

"Oh...." he hissed.

"What?" Alex asked with some trepidation.

"Hold on, AJ," Alan said, "This is gonna be rough!"

Suddenly the floor rumbled and lurched beneath them and they scrambled to grab hold of something that was both solid and bolted down. Alan managed to grip a shelving unit, just as the floorboards buckled and splintered like matchsticks.

Several transparent figures shot up at him and he had little time to check if Alex was ok as he fired ineffective shot after ineffective shot at the poltergeists. He was hanging precariously, one hand clinging desperately to the shelf while the other held the UV gun.

He was slipping, his stomach lurched as he realized this. His sweaty hand was sliding on the wood, and below him was a gaping hole in the floor that led directly to the hallway below.

"Oh damn!" he yelled, scrabbling to regain his hold. But it was no use. Alan screamed as he lost his grip and fell swiftly, still clinging to the UV gun as the poltergeists swarmed around him.

He closed his eyes .... and waited.