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Conspiracy Theory


Nobody believed it was an accident.

When the Lucitania caught fire and John Mulcahy died, shockwaves spread across the entire planet. I was one of the engineers working at the spaceport in Louisiana. I watched horrified as the trail of smoke arced across the skyline. I’d been over every inch of that craft before it took off and there was nothing that could have caused it to burn up before the ship had even reached low Earth orbit. Hell, we were flying the President, we weren’t about to take any short cuts. It was the early days of commercial space travel and we all knew the knock on effects if anybody screwed up.

I gave evidence at the Walberg Commission, but it was a waste of time. They had already made up their minds. A micro-fine cut in a circuit board just below the main oxygen cylinder had triggered the fire, they said. A random spark flaring at just the wrong moment. It was a million to one chance. Nobody was to blame.

Who did they think they were kidding?

Mulcahy may have been a genuine blue collar hero, but he hadn’t made any friends on Capitol Hill in the two years since his inauguration. I must have given a hundred interviews on the subject. No-one believed the President had died in a simple accident. Too many people had wanted him out of the way. The gun lobby, the anti-abortionists, the military.

I might never have found out the truth, if it wasn’t for Danny Ryman. Danny was a colleague of mine. We’d worked together on the Lucitania at the time of the disaster. His call came out of the blue. I hadn’t heard from him in almost a decade. ‘I need to talk to you,’ he said, in his broad Texan drawl.

‘What’s this about, Danny?’

The man sounded nervous. ‘Do you remember Jeff Chang?’

‘Sure I do.’ Another engineer.

‘He died two months ago. He was working at an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. There was some kind of accident.’

‘What’s that got to do with me?’

Ryman wouldn’t say. ‘Look, can we meet up? I don’t want to talk over the phone.’ He gave me the address of a bar downtown.

I turned up next day, as arranged, but there was no sign of Danny. I waited an hour, then called his cell. It rang three times and flicked to voicemail. I left a message, but he didn’t reply.

Three days later, I got a call from his wife. Ryman was dead. He’d been killed in a car accident. He had been out drinking and had lost control of the vehicle on a bad patch of road.

I met his wife at the funeral. She was blonde and petite, younger than Danny. She asked me to stop by their apartment later that day. I guess she needed some consolation.

‘He had been drinking a lot recently,’ Melinda told me. ‘He’d got it into his head that somebody was trying to kill him.’

‘Is that why he wanted to speak to me?’

She nodded. ‘He thought it was something to do with the Lucitania. It was a bad time for us, back then. We had serious financial problems. Then some government official approached him. Offered him a huge sum of money. I mean, huge. And all he had to do was get hold of some documents and give them to a man named Simmons.’

‘Documents?’ I narrowed my eyes. ‘What sort of documents?’

Melinda swallowed hard. ‘The Inspection Certificates from Lockheart Engineering. He stole them from the office.’

‘Jesus!’ Every conspiracy nut this side of Wyoming had developed a theory about what had happened to those documents.

‘Danny told me he’d won the money on the lottery. It was only recently he came clean and told me the truth. But he swore blind there was nothing in any of those documents to suggest foul play.’

‘But when Jeff Chang died he got scared?’ Jeff and Danny had worked together in Louisiana.

Melinda shook her head. ‘Not at first. Not until he met Rick Volkinski.’

That name rang a bell. ‘You mean the conspiracy freak?’ Rick Volkinski was a nutcase, a national laughing stock. He was convinced the Earth was in the grip of a covert alien invasion. ‘How did they meet?’

‘Danny was trawling the internet, trying to find out about this man Simmons. He followed some links to Volkinski’s website. They got in contact and after that things started to spiral. His drinking got worse. And then he went out for a drive …’ Melinda put her head in her hands.

I found out where Volkinski lived. I was going to give the man a piece of my mind. Before I got the chance, he contacted me. ‘Your life may be in danger,’ he said.

I drove over to his apartment.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Volkinski was tall and lean, clean shaven but nervous. He poured me a whisky and we started to talk.

‘This man Simmons is everywhere,’ he said. ‘I showed Danny a photograph and he recognized the guy straight away.’ Volkinski passed across a picture of a man with spectacles and white hair. Anonymous looking. ‘That wasn’t the only one. This is a press cutting about the San Francisco meteor shower. Look at the background.’ Sure enough, the same man was standing a few feet behind the local law enforcement officer. Volkinski had other photos. Every major disaster, every major controversy of the last fifty years. And every time, somewhere in the background, there was Simmons, looking not a day older or younger. ‘He’s not acting alone. There are about a dozen of them, all linked together financially. And they’re manipulating world events, orchestrating everything from behind the scenes.’

‘To what end?’

‘They’re taking over the planet,’ Volkinski replied, without blinking. ‘We’re being invaded by shape-shifting aliens. And anyone that dares speak out is silenced. Permanently.’

Volkinski was convinced that I would be their next victim.

The man was a fruitcake. Little green men. Did I look like an idiot?

I left the apartment shortly afterwards.

My car was parked a little way down the street. It was after dark. Another vehicle was driving slowly along the road. A limousine. I hesitated as the car pulled up beside me. Its windows were shaded but one of the doors sprang open. Seated inside was a white-haired man in his early fifties. I recognized him at once.

‘Mr Muldoon,’ Simmons said, in a cut-glass British accent. ‘Please get in the car.’ Two men had stepped out onto the sidewalk. As far as I could tell, they weren’t armed. But they stood either side of me and gestured towards the vehicle. I didn’t fancy my chances if I tried to escape. I got in the car.

Simmons evaluated me silently through his wire framed glasses. He was sipping some water he’d poured from a bottle on the table. He offered me a glass.

I took a quick swig and woke up in a brightly lit room.

White walls. It could have been anywhere.

Simmons was sitting opposite me, staring intently. ‘Sorry about the water. A simple security measure. We like to keep our location secret.’

I felt sick. I pulled myself upright on the chair. ‘Why have you brought me here?’ I demanded groggily.

‘We just wanted a little chat. Especially after your talk with Mr Volkinski. I gather he gave you his usual spiel.’

‘He said you were a bunch of aliens, infiltrating the establishment.’

Simmons gave me a look. ‘And you believed him?’

‘What do you take me for?’ I snorted.

‘But you do think we had something to do with the Lucitania disaster.’

‘Quit playing games, Simmons, or whatever your name is. Just tell me the truth. Did you and your cohorts assassinate President Mulcahy?’

The white-haired man gave me a straight answer. ‘No we did not. His death was an accident, nothing more.’

‘And Jeff Chang? Was that an accident too? And Danny Ryman?’

‘The Lucitania disaster was nearly ten years ago. Jeff Chang died in an industrial accident less than three months ago. Danny Ryman was drunk in charge of a vehicle with his head full of Volkinski’s ridiculous paranoia.’

‘But you did pay him to steal those documents.’

‘Yes we did.’

‘So who the hell are you? And don’t tell me you’re from another planet.’

Simmons smiled. ‘I’m not from another planet. I’m as human as you are – not a shape-shifting alien, as Mr Volkinski would have you believe. But if I were to tell you the truth – that I’m an academic from the future, conducting research into early modern human credulity – I imagine you’d be equally sceptical.’

I frowned. ‘Damn right I would be.’

‘You’re obviously a cut above the average conspiracy freak.’

‘So what are you trying to tell me? You’re some kind of…sociologist?’

‘Well…more of an anthropologist, really.’

‘From the future?’

‘Yes.’

I blinked. ‘And…you’ve got nothing to do with any of these conspiracies?’

‘Oh we certainly have something to do with them, but not in the way that you think. We don’t instigate anything. We simply wait for the next big event – the improbable but statistically inevitable catastrophe. The car crash involving an important head of state. The chemical spill. The lone gunman. The experimental plane that crashes into a farmhouse. Then we jump in and muddy the waters. It’s surprising how easy it is to do. A missing CCTV disk. Mixed up medical reports. People are always more willing to believe in conspiracies than a straightforward accident. It’s fascinating to watch the spread of misinformation. We’ve been studying the phenomena for years and we’re only just beginning to understand the mental processes involved.’

‘Let me get this straight. You’re saying that every significant conspiracy theory of the last – what? – fifty years was deliberately manufactured by you. As an academic exercise?’

Simmons smiled again. ‘Pretty much.’

‘But that’s ridiculous!'

He nodded, smugly. ‘A clandestine organization conspiring to manufacture conspiracy theories, all in the name of scientific research. Who would ever believe something so absurd?’

‘But you can’t seriously tell me there’s never been a real conspiracy in the whole history of the human race.’

‘No, of course not. There have been a few. But not nearly as many as people would like to believe. In your modern world keeping a secret of any magnitude is almost impossible. Look at President Nixon – sorry, before your time, isn’t he? I keep forgetting what year this is – but he couldn’t even cover up a handful of men breaking into an office. Yet some people believe he faked the entire moon landings.’

‘I suppose you had a hand it that too, did you?’ I asked, sarcastically.

‘We may have doctored the odd photograph. And we certainly muddied the waters where the Lucitania was concerned.’

‘But you didn’t kill President Mulcahy?’

‘I’ve already told you, Mr Muldoon. It was an accident. A one in ten thousand chance. It does happen.’

‘So why tell me? Why bring me here? You didn’t just abduct me to tell me everything you’re doing and then let me go.’

‘Didn’t we?’ he asked, his eyes twinkling behind his spectacles.

I frowned again. ‘You mean you are going to let me go?’

‘We’re scientists, not barbarians. We’ll have to blindfold you when you leave the premises, but you’re free to go whenever you like….’

‘But what if I tell everyone what you’re up to? All these psychological experiments? The misinformation. The fact that time travel is really possible…’ I stopped. Simmons was grinning at me and suddenly I understood. ‘That’s what you want me to do.’

He raised an eyebrow. ‘A conspiracy to create conspiracy theories is still a conspiracy.’

‘I don’t care,’ I said. ‘People deserve to know the truth.’

‘Absolutely! And who better than you to tell it to them…?’

He handed me a blindfold and I was led out of the building.

          'Good luck, Mr Muldoon,’ he called, as I was bundled into the back of a car. ‘It’ll be interesting to see if anyone believes you…’

   
   
  

All material copyright Jack Treby 2017