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 Louisiana. I
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 Walberg Commission,
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 triggered the
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 kidding?
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. No-one believed
President had died in a simple accident. Too many people had wanted him
the way. The gun lobby, the anti-abortionists, the military.
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. His
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 you remember
‘Sure I do.’ Another engineer.
‘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 me?’
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 reply.
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 their apartment
day. I guess she needed some consolation.
‘He had been drinking a lot recently,’
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
the Lucitania. It was a bad
us, back then. We had serious financial problems. Then some
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 Simmons.’
‘Documents?’ I narrowed my eyes. ‘What sort
Melinda swallowed hard. ‘The Inspection
from Lockheart Engineering. He stole them from the office.’
‘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 play.’
‘But when Jeff Chang died he got scared?’
Danny had worked together in Louisiana.
Melinda shook her head. ‘Not at first. Not
met Rick Volkinski.’
That name rang a bell. ‘You mean the
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 Volkinski’s website.
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 apartment.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Volkinski
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.’ Volkinski passed
picture of a man with spectacles and white hair. Anonymous looking.
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
law enforcement officer. Volkinski had other photos. Every major
every major controversy of the last fifty years. And every time,
the background, there was Simmons, looking not a day older or younger.
not acting alone. There are about a dozen of them, all linked together
financially. And they’re manipulating world events, orchestrating
behind the scenes.’
‘To what end?’
‘They’re taking over the planet,’ Volkinski
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 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
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 through his
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 been anywhere.
Simmons was sitting opposite me, staring
about the water. A simple security measure. We like to keep our
I felt sick. I pulled myself upright on the
have you brought me here?’ I demanded groggily.
‘We just wanted a little chat. Especially
talk with Mr Volkinski. I gather he gave you his usual spiel.’
‘He said you were a bunch of aliens,
Simmons gave me a look. ‘And you believed
‘What do you take me for?’ I snorted.
‘But you do think we had something to do with
‘Quit playing games, Simmons, or whatever
your name is.
Just tell me the truth. Did you and your cohorts assassinate President
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?
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
head full of Volkinski’s ridiculous paranoia.’
‘But you did pay him to steal those
‘Yes we did.’
‘So who the hell are you? And don’t tell me
from another planet.’
Simmons smiled. ‘I’m not from another planet.
human as you are – not a shape-shifting alien, as Mr Volkinski would
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 would be.’
‘You’re obviously a cut above the average
‘So what are you trying to tell me? You’re
‘Well…more of an anthropologist, really.’
‘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 simply
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. The experimental
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 medical reports.
always more willing to believe in conspiracies than a straightforward
It’s fascinating to watch the spread of misinformation. We’ve been
phenomena for years and we’re only just beginning to understand the
‘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 much.’
‘But that’s ridiculous!'
He nodded, smugly. ‘A clandestine
conspiring to manufacture conspiracy theories, all in the name of
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
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 some people
believe he faked
the entire moon landings.’
‘I suppose you had a hand it that too, did
‘We may have doctored the odd photograph. And
muddied the waters where the Lucitania was
‘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
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 whenever you
‘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 anyone believes