believed it was an accident.
When the Lucitania
caught fire and John Mulcahy died, shockwaves spread
across the entire
I was one of the engineers working at the spaceport in
watched horrified as the trail
of smoke arced across the skyline. I’d been over every
inch of that
before it took off and there was nothing that could
have caused it to
before the ship had even reached low Earth orbit.
Hell, we were flying
President, we weren’t about to take any short cuts. It
was the early
commercial space travel and we all knew the knock on
effects if anybody
I gave evidence at the
but it was
a waste of time. They had already made up their minds.
A micro-fine cut
circuit board just below the main oxygen cylinder had
said. A random spark flaring at just the wrong moment.
It was a million
chance. Nobody was to blame.
Who did they think they were
Mulcahy may have been a
genuine blue collar
he hadn’t made any friends on Capitol Hill in the two
years since his
I must have given a hundred interviews on the subject.
President had died in a simple accident. Too many
people had wanted him
the way. The gun lobby, the anti-abortionists, the
I might never have found out
the truth, if it
for Danny Ryman. Danny was a colleague of mine. We’d
worked together on
the Lucitania at the time of the disaster.
call came out of the blue. I hadn’t heard from him in
almost a decade.
to talk to you,’ he said, in his broad Texan drawl.
‘What’s this about, Danny?’
The man sounded nervous. ‘Do
‘Sure I do.’ Another
‘He died two months ago. He
was working at an
refinery in Saudi
There was some kind of accident.’
‘What’s that got to do with
Ryman wouldn’t say. ‘Look,
can we meet up? I
want to talk over the phone.’ He gave me the address
of a bar downtown.
I turned up next day, as
arranged, but there
sign of Danny. I waited an hour, then called his cell.
It rang three
flicked to voicemail. I left a message, but he didn’t
Three days later, I got a
call from his wife.
dead. He’d been killed in a car accident. He had been
out drinking and
control of the vehicle on a bad patch of road.
I met his wife at the
funeral. She was blonde
petite, younger than Danny. She asked me to stop by
day. I guess she needed some consolation.
‘He had been drinking a lot
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
It was a bad
us, back then. We had serious financial problems. Then
official approached him. Offered him a huge sum of
money. I mean, huge.
And all he had to do was get
of some documents and give them to a man named
‘Documents?’ I narrowed my
eyes. ‘What sort
Melinda swallowed hard. ‘The
from Lockheart Engineering. He stole them from the
‘Jesus!’ Every conspiracy nut
this side of Wyoming had
theory about what had happened to those documents.
‘Danny told me he’d won the
money on the
was only recently he came clean and told me the truth.
But he swore
was nothing in any of those documents to suggest foul
‘But when Jeff Chang died he
Danny had worked together in Louisiana.
Melinda shook her head. ‘Not
at first. Not
met Rick Volkinski.’
That name rang a bell. ‘You
Rick Volkinski was a nutcase, a national laughing
stock. He was
Earth was in the grip of a covert alien invasion. ‘How
did they meet?’
‘Danny was trawling the
internet, trying to
about this man Simmons. He followed some links to
in contact and after that things started to spiral.
His drinking got
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.
life may be in danger,’ he said.
I drove over to his
I wasn’t quite sure what to
and lean, clean shaven but nervous. He poured me a
whisky and we
‘This man Simmons is
everywhere,’ he said. ‘I
a photograph and he recognized the guy straight away.’
picture of a man with spectacles and white hair.
wasn’t the only one. This is a press cutting about the
meteor shower. Look at the
background.’ Sure enough, the same man was standing a
few feet behind
law enforcement officer. Volkinski had other photos.
every major controversy of the last fifty years. And
the background, there was Simmons, looking not a day
older or younger.
not acting alone. There are about a dozen of them, all
financially. And they’re manipulating world events,
behind the scenes.’
‘To what end?’
‘They’re taking over the
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
The man was a fruitcake.
Little green men.
Did I look
like an idiot?
I left the apartment shortly
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
sprang open. Seated inside was a white-haired man in
his early fifties.
him at once.
‘Mr Muldoon,’ Simmons said,
in a cut-glass
accent. ‘Please get in the car.’ Two men had stepped
out onto the
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
Simmons evaluated me silently
glasses. He was sipping some water he’d poured from a
bottle on the
offered me a glass.
I took a quick swig and woke
up in a brightly
White walls. It could have
Simmons was sitting opposite
about the water. A simple security measure. We like to
I felt sick. I pulled myself
upright on the
have you brought me here?’ I demanded groggily.
‘We just wanted a little
talk with Mr Volkinski. I gather he gave you his usual
‘He said you were a bunch of
Simmons gave me a look. ‘And
‘What do you take me for?’ I
‘But you do think we had
something to do with
the Lucitania disaster.’
‘Quit playing games, Simmons,
your name is.
Just tell me the truth. Did you and your cohorts
The white-haired man gave me
answer. ‘No we
did not. His death was an accident, nothing more.’
‘And Jeff Chang? Was that an
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
head full of Volkinski’s ridiculous paranoia.’
‘But you did pay him to steal
‘Yes we did.’
‘So who the hell are you? And
don’t tell me
from another planet.’
Simmons smiled. ‘I’m not from
human as you are – not a shape-shifting alien, as Mr
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
I frowned. ‘Damn right I
‘You’re obviously a cut above
‘So what are you trying to
tell me? You’re
‘Well…more of an
‘From the future?’
I blinked. ‘And…you’ve got
nothing to do with
‘Oh we certainly have something to do with them, but not in
the way that you
think. We don’t instigate anything. We
wait for the next big event – the improbable
but statistically inevitable catastrophe. The car
crash involving an
head of state. The chemical spill. The lone gunman.
crashes into a farmhouse. Then we jump in and muddy
the waters. It’s
how easy it is to do. A missing CCTV disk. Mixed up
always more willing to believe in conspiracies than a
It’s fascinating to watch the spread of
misinformation. We’ve been
phenomena for years and we’re only just beginning to
‘Let me get this straight.
You’re saying that
significant conspiracy theory of the last – what? –
fifty years was
manufactured by you. As an academic exercise?’
Simmons smiled again. ‘Pretty
‘But that’s ridiculous!'
He nodded, smugly. ‘A
conspiring to manufacture conspiracy theories, all in
the name of
research. Who would ever believe something so absurd?’
‘But you can’t seriously tell
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
of any magnitude is almost impossible. Look at
President Nixon – sorry,
your time, isn’t he? I keep forgetting what year this
is – but he
cover up a handful of men breaking into an office. Yet
believe he faked
the entire moon landings.’
‘I suppose you had a hand it
that too, did
‘We may have doctored the odd
muddied the waters where the Lucitania
‘But you didn’t kill
‘I’ve already told you, Mr
Muldoon. It was an
accident. A one in ten thousand chance. It does
‘So why tell me? Why bring me
didn’t just abduct
me to tell me everything you’re doing and then let me
‘Didn’t we?’ he asked, his
I frowned again. ‘You mean
you are going to let me go?’
‘We’re scientists, not
barbarians. We’ll have
you when you leave the premises, but you’re free to go
‘But what if I tell everyone
what you’re up
these psychological experiments? The misinformation.
The fact that time
is really possible…’ I stopped. Simmons was grinning
at me and suddenly
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
‘Absolutely! And who better
than you to tell
He handed me a blindfold and
I was led out of
'Good luck, Mr Muldoon,’ he
called, as I was
into the back of a car. ‘It’ll be interesting to see if