Wednesday, October 2, 2013

It's been a while.  Expect more short stories in the future.  But for right now, I just want to share the story of Andrew Archibald Nickel and the conspiracy that ultimately claimed his life back in 1972.  This piece is going to be the introduction to the science fiction thriller "Our War with Molly Nayfack," to be released in the coming months after editing has concluded.  Expect also to hear an update on "Beware the Well Fed Man" (formerly titled A Pyramid of Rats) and its sequel "What Do You Suppose the Horses Know?"  The events outlined in Mr. Alvison's letter are alleged to have taken place in 1972, the same year the USSR produced this propaganda video telling the public a utopian existence awaited them at Norilsk.

It's been too long that I've waited to write this letter.  My name is John Alvison, and if you're a member of the general public you probably don't know me.  That's fine.  I'm one of the people who works behind the curtain of our vast American political machine.  A name you might know, if you're a crackpot or a right wing conspiracy theorist is the man I worked for.  I'm here to tell you what really happened to Senator Andrew Archibald Nickel.

There are ways we do things in the world I live in.  They're not big, they're not all-encompassing, and they're not the sort of conspiracies you probably dream about.  Most people who are involved have no idea where in the machine their cogs lie.  And yet it's brief, calculated, and brutal.  It's a sub-element of the DC political machine that everyone agrees surely must exist, but which has stayed comfortably out of the spotlight for the sake of our day-to-day security.  I myself didn't know where in the machine I was until one December day in 1972.

But to do this I have to go back ten years.  Ten years earlier and Andrew and I are standing on an elevated platform surrounded by thick coniferous trees on all sides.  He's grinning like a kid who's convinced his parents there's a second Christmas.  He turns to me, slaps me on the back, and in his thick Arkansas accent he says, "I've got three plans for this place.  At least for right now.  Three."  He throws up three fingers and then looks from me to the sprawling fog laden world around us before leaning his heavy frame on the steel railing of our platform once again.

I don't know enough about what has happened to truly appreciate where we are, or the facility we just passed through.  Large sections of my mind still think we're back in the District of Columbia, having traveled through a simple tunnel like any other.  The forest is unexplained, sure, but my mind hasn't learned to think outside of space yet.  As far as I'm concerned, this facility just has an extremely big yard.  Somehow the politician gets it before I do.  I suppose that's because he stands to make a lot of money if he can understand what the US military has offered us.

"Yeah," Senator Nickel says, "We're going to want to clear out this patch of forest.  Clear cut it down, start leveling the ground for building.  We'll need a few houses for workmen to keep work going.  Then we turn that outpost into a town.  The town should support around a thousand.  Maybe double that.  Let's see how it works out.  We'll need a rail line to start pulling back trees.  Bring them back through that tunnel.  This could be the biggest lumber operation in two worlds.  How much land did they say they've prospected?"

"Approximately 6,200 square miles.  All of it is like this.  No visible changes from one to another aside from occasional pools of standing water.  Nearly a hundred species of trees have been identified so far - all with striking similarities to trees found in or near the District of Columbia.  No native fauna."

"Sixty-two hundred square miles, all of it highly exploitable and ready for the picking.  We're making history just standing here."

That's how it began.  Senator Nickel arranged the deal with the Transpace Exploratory Association, and we spent more days in the tunneling facility than we did with our families over the next few months.  We found workers, hauled the first trailers through the tunnel, and cleared away land quickly.  When he wasn't on the ground floor, overseeing operations, the senator was in back rooms arranging deals or drawing up a brain trust of industry men to turn this new discovery into a goldmine.

"It's a new planet.  Another dimension.  And it's ours."

"If you don't understand the potential here, then you won't survive in the business world."

"Should be 1,600 tons of concrete I'll need.  You'll make back three times your profit in a year."

"I can't say what it is, or where.  Hell, I couldn't if I wanted to.  I'm just a simple man from Arkansas.  But you remember the promises I made on your Plantain enterprise in Cuba.  I don't seem to recall you complaining when it made you a rich man."

Nickel was a cunning businessman.  And he had a reputation.  Soon he had burgeoning tycoons bidding against one another to invest in a project they would be kept completely in the dark on.  Just because it was top secret didn't mean it wasn't an excellent business opportunity.

There are three primary advantages to building an industry off-world, as we soon discovered.  First, there's the red tape.  Even though the world, or as the military and TEA called it, "the Drop Zone" was technically occupying the same space as the US of A, Nickel's family lawyer had made it clear that the same rules wouldn't necessarily apply there.  Regulations that would have crippled an industry were suddenly lifted.  Factory conditions could relax somewhat.  The tree huggers never got a chance to see it, so they couldn't picket it.  A whole movement of militant environmentalists would march past our industry and never even see it.  If it had been public knowledge, we could have swayed public opinion on that front fairly easily.  Why ruin the Earth when we have a perfectly good off-world production plant?

Second, there was the missile shield it provided.  The town of Cairo, first and only community to be fully resistant to the effects of full blown intercontinental nuclear war was slated to be a resort town for families of note if ever the tensions between the US and the Soviet Union reached a boiling point.  Even if the whole globe was swallowed for three generations by nuclear fire and radiation, we would be able to wait it out in a typical suburban looking community with everything we needed.  This was the cornerstone that Cairo was founded on.  It was also the primary thing that kept government subsidies funneling to us through secret channels.

Third, there was the de facto monopoly we had on the space.  Nickel was trusted by the two administrations leading up to the eventual discovery of the Drop Zone, so he got the contract to develop it.  No one else got it, because no one else in the United States knew about it.  It's possible with the impressive spy program going on that someone in the USSR had heard of this whole thing, but I doubt they would have believed it.  They were too busy killing cosmonauts, trying to touch that vacuum surrounding our planet.

If it had worked, I think things would be different now.  It wasn't the untimely death of Senator Nickel that caused us to cancel the project.  His death was merely a symptom of something far bigger.  He didn't kill himself when his wife demanded a divorce due to his infidelity.  That's just the story we leaked to the press to avoid scandal, to preserve some of what remained of his good name.  The truth is, I had to do it.  He made me do it.

When I shot him, I remember a beam of light from the setting sun traveled through the car window, through his head, and I saw it make a big white blotch on my hand.  It was only there for a split second, but it's the little things that haunt you most.  My hand next to his hollowed out head as I watch light pour through.  I had been squeamish, choosing to look at my hand to avoid seeing the gore of it all.  He had a rosary in both hands.  The senator was a religious man.  Part of the reason I had to do the shooting.  After that, I wiped my prints off the gun and pressed it into his hand.  The rosary he held I took with me.  It didn't fit the narrative.  I had a hooker call the police for me.

A week before, I remember going to "the tunnel," or the dimensional gateway to the Drop Zone.  It was off, of course.  Work crews were disassembling the reel to reel computers, hauling them away to be incinerated.  Pieces of paper containing strange mathematics were either shipped to Universities (if they were completely useless) or incinerated (everything else.)  I'm unaware of anyone else who was physically neutralized to keep the project secret.  Most of them were happy with early retirement and the knowledge that talking meant death.  Occasionally I'll read something in Fortean tabloids suggesting to me that someone low on the totem pole talked, but I'm not going to lose sleep over what the crackpots say to one another.  It's always to one another.  No one else is going to listen to them.  Every lunatic in the world could know, but it wouldn't make any difference.  They're not the ones we're protecting.

Sometimes it's easy to lose track of who we actually are protecting.  Not the public, not me, certainly not the senator.  I hope somewhere someone knows.  Maybe we're protecting the public from themselves most of all.  Democracy is as dangerous a thing as it is beautiful.  We're lying to the public so they'll vote to preserve democracy and the status quo.  That makes a sort of sense, right?  Eddie Bernays once called it a 'freedom to engineer consent.'

"God, Country, freedom," the senator said poking his three fingers calculatedly from the platform overlooking the wooded grove.  He grinned in a way that made it hard to dislike him.  I have to say I liked him a lot.  He poked out his pinky finger over the railing, waggling it and wearing that enormous grin, "And a little cash.  Alright, four things.  Three things and another little thing."

We don't know why they closed it.  I remember before it happened we had several crates rolled into the facility's basement.  I don't know what was in them, but I think about it a lot now.  The only thing I can guess is that they were afraid of something coming out, back through the tunnel.  TNT or something bigger could have taken out the whole facility with as many crates as they brought in.  The next day they switched the tunnel off, took parts out of the machines, and finally after extensive interviews among staff members and myself, they removed the boxes.  We still don't know who "they" were - only that in the future we'll hear more from them.

The motor convoy carrying the first shipment of lumber was forced off the road, the trucks were unloaded, and in the middle of a field somewhere south of Strasburg Virginia the military burned 130 tons of perfectly good dried and aged lumber.  Once again, we don't know why.  The people doing it didn't know why either.  Nickel talked to their commanding officer.  He cooperated as best he could, but we learned nothing.  Nothing.

The tunnel was shut off for good.  Investors lost an estimated $600 million, but were reimbursed over thirty years with federal discretionary funds adjusted for inflation.  They were lucky to get it.  Senator Nickel personally lost nearly a quarter of that himself, having invested heavily in the residential development.  But that didn't seem to bother him.

"How many folks did they say were still in Cairo?  In the DZ?"

It was an oddly sentimental question asked nearly three weeks before I would sit next to him in the back seat of a black car, a gun weighing heavily in my hand.

"Eight hundred... little more," I said.

For once, he didn't say anything.  The senator from Arkansas that always had a joke, a colloquialism, a crass racist or sexual pun about everything just stared at the stone wall in front of him where the tunnel had once been.  He must have forgotten that he wasn't alone.  He just reached out and touched the wall,


Over the next few months the senator would keep up appearances.  I'd see him laughing along with businessmen about the next investment.  Japan was starting to make heavy strides forward, exceeding most generous expectations for GDP growth.  Whatever profits had been lost in Senator Nickel's joint venture with the military were soon forgotten.  He laughed heartily and smoked Virginia grown cigars, refusing to break the trade embargo the US had set up against Cuban tobacco, no matter how fashionable it was.

In Spring one day he told me he had failed to convince anyone involved in the project to ever open the tunnel again.

"They found something, I'm sure of it.  They're afraid.  I don't think I'll be able to convince them to reopen the tunnel.  Not unless I have the public on my side."

"They won't let you do that, Archie," I said, "Your wife, kids... Think about them."

"They're all I can think of," he said, fumbling in his shirt pocket and pulling out a black beaded rosary, "Tomorrow I'm going to the press.  I'm telling them everything."

We sat in silence, fear gripping me as I realized there was no end to the chaos he was about to wreak.  He was sentimental in those days in quiet moments.  I thought of him laughing heartily with cigars clenched between his teeth.  And then I looked at him as he stared at the dashboard, one hand on the door handle and the other trembling with fear, clutching his rosary.  Just an old man.

"There's a gun in the glove compartment," he said finally and got up to sit in the back seat to pray.

I understood completely.  It's strange when someone like Nickel makes the decision to do something right.  They're not good at it in some ways, selfish about it in some ways, and then in others they seem to know exactly what to say.  And in the case of Andrew Archibald Nickel, that exact thing was nothing.

Page 67, UFO Proof Magazine, "Letters to the Editor"
December 31, 1980

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