"Like I said," the man drawled
through a phone connection plagued with static, "if I hadn't seen it with
my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it. There it was, just as plain as
the nose on my face, a whole train load of Russian tanks."
With one hand cupping the headphone ear piece that refused to stay put, Tom Martin, 'the man most feared by the government,' replied in his trademark indignant staccato, "and you say you saw this just outside of Spokane, Washington?"
"That's right. There was a whole load of flat cars, each covered with a tarp, except for one. And as God is my witness, there were a couple of Russian tanks sitting there."
"Are you sure they were Russian?" "Oh yes, Tom, they were Russian all right. You see, I was never in the Army, but I've seen pictures and I watched a lot of news during Desert Storm. And these were most certainly Russian, not the ones we used to kick Saddam Hussein's butt all the way back to Baghdad."
With the same quick reflexes he used to dial for a pizza, the portly Martin punched the mute button on the console while saying, "thank you for the call. So what is this, America? Are there really Russian tanks in the Pacific Northwest? And if so, why? And why are they out in the open? Are we cozying up to the Russians so much that we're going to invite them for joint military maneuvers on our soil, along with their cronies in Beijing? And let them ship their equipment here ahead of time, and no doubt at your expense? How about an answer? Charles in Seattle, you're next."
"Tom, Tom," came a weary voice. "There's been a couple of articles in defense journals stating that we purchased nearly a hundred surplus tanks from the old East German army. What your listener saw was just a couple on there way to Ft. Lewis for testing. There's no conspiracy, much as you like us to think is lurking around every corner."
"No conspiracy? I'm not so sure about that. If you're so well read, Charles, then you must know that the ultra nationalists are on the verge of taking control of Russia. And when that happens, the old Soviet Union will return with a vengeance. They'll be so grateful for all the high tech our liberals in Washington so short sightedly sent to them, because now they don't have to wreck their economy trying to keep up. We've done it for them!"
"But Tom, they've got so many internal problems.."
"Do they? Do they? Sure they've had some civil wars with former republics, but those republics wouldn't have been reliable in a war anyway. It's the Russians, Charles, the R-U-S-S-I-A-N-S we need to worry about. They kept all the nuclear weapons, they kept all the submarines and advanced weaponry, the other republics were just excess baggage. The war in Chechnya was just a military exercise to weed out the incompetents in the Russian military hierarchy."
Pointlessly the debate continued, Charles holding out hope that his education, analytical mind, and what he was convinced enlightened attitudes would bend the will of this shrill huckster. But the shrill huckster was a canny judge of what his listeners wanted to hear. He had found early in his broadcasting career that attention was paid, along with more substantial salaries and endorsements, to those espousing the outrageous. As long as his listeners shared those views, he was more than happy to oblige.
One of his most fervent admirers was Greg Eaton, a postal clerk for more years than he cared to remember. A college dropout, he had seen his dreams evaporate one by one through indecision, false beginnings, and finally through self esteem so beaten down by acquaintances, coworkers and a succession of tyrannical supervisors that he felt he was little more than an indentured servant. Every day he showed up to sort through what he swore was the same mail, endured the same verbal abuse from bored supervisors, and the same belittlements from his equally frustrated and worthless feeling coworkers.
Feeding his feelings of hopelessness was a lifetime of paranoia. Greg was afraid of just about everyone and everything. He was convinced his apartment was bugged, though by whom and for what reason he had no idea. A recent spate of illnesses were attributed to either a slow poisoning of the city's water supply, or a secret government experiment gone awry. Lack of exercise, a poor diet and negative attitude towards life were not considered. And his apartment was littered with magazine and newspaper articles of alleged government excesses.
Greg was already convinced that at least a half dozen fellow employees were involved in espionage. Using high tech scanners to see through envelopes, they were busy putting together dossiers on hundreds of suspected subversives. Greg should have felt secure, since the most subversive thing he had ever done was once vote Libertarian. However, what if his name was confused with another Greg Eaton who had truly dastardly motives? Would a knock come at his door one night, followed by his simply vanishing from the face of the earth?
Not a cheery thought, but Greg had enjoyed so few of those in the last ten years that one more didn't matter. For what was he but a cog in a machine that served no purpose except to exist? Day in, day out, it ground on, producing nothing while consuming the lives of its components. And if one broke, it was discarded and replaced. Older workers, some having wasted thirty or more years in this dreadful place, were shoved aside when retirement age was reached. No ceremony, no thank you for a job well done, just the satisfaction of management that they could now hire a younger worker at a lower salary.
Greg was in a limbo. Too young to retire and too old to start over in a career more to his liking, he sat night after night in a stool ingeniously designed to extract maximum back pain, varicose veins, and other maladies of enforced poor posture. The tyrants entitled management strictly enforced a no talking rule. Though as a concession to keep morale slightly above the level of mass suicide, the soft rustling of envelopes was complemented by the soft murmur of the employees' personal Walkman's and headphone radios. Yet the surrounding stupor was a primordial soup that fed Greg's paranoias. Elaborate conspiracy theories occupied his mind as he mechanically sorted mail.
That Wednesday morning, Greg's shift ended at the same time as the Tom Martin show. Switching his radio off with a mental note to get more batteries, Greg got up from the stool, noted that his back hurt worse than ever, then simply punched his time card, and walked with slightly stooped shoulders outside to catch his bus home.
The morning was clear and warm, an ideal summer day except that Greg would be sleeping for most of it. Envious was he of those who led normal lives. They could sleep at night, when it was dark and cool, as God had intended. They could attend to business when businesses were usually open. They could enjoy the company of their families and friends in the evening, and best of all, could do something about wan complexions.
Only a few people waited at the stop, a ponytailed student with her ubiquitous knapsack, an elderly woman who looked like she just wanted to get out of the house, and a frazzled looking woman trying to control a rambunctious four year old boy. Greg paid them no heed. A bout of insomnia had reduced his already marginal awareness to near stupefaction. The familiar, muffled rumble of a diesel engine provoked only a slight raising of his eyes. The blue and yellow painted bus slowed by the stop. All perfectly routine. Until the small boy broke away from his mother and dashed in front of the bus.
The driver couldn't see the lad. His mother screamed, then the situation snapped Greg from near catatonia and made him almost subconsciously launch himself after the boy. He was able to seize a tiny arm, then lurched around to literally toss the child to his mother. With a deftness that belied the panic of the situation, she caught him like he was the winning touchdown pass. Unfortunately, for Greg the football analogy was the quarterback suffering a late hit from a vengeful linebacker. Considering that the linebacker in this case was a twenty ton mass of steel, the hit resulted in more than just a penalty. Mercifully, Greg did not feel a thing.
His funeral was sparsely attended. Only a handful of fellow workers, who within a month would forget that he had ever existed, bothered to show up. The relatives he never got along with appeared out of a sense of duty instead of respect. To top it all off, the minister kept referring to him as Fred in stead of Greg, the funeral procession, such as it was, got separated and lost in traffic, and the hearse broke down so that it arrived at the cemetery behind a tow truck.
Greg was at least spared awareness of these indignities. The last thing he remembered was a tremendous impact then darkness. When he came to, he was standing in a brightly lit room. Silver luminescence seemed to radiate from all surfaces in a surrealistic glow. Seated behind an antique oak desk was a stern looking older man. Though dressed in a robe that seemed to match the light, he had a distinct military bearing. Beneath a gray crew-cut, ice blue eyes pierced everything they fell on, including, Greg noted uncomfortably, himself.
Yet he wasn't bewildered by this apparition. Sudden as his demise had been, it was merely accepted. His miserable earthly existence was over, and this persona was going to pronounce what, if any, afterlife had been earned. So Greg stood, knowing that he dared not say a word, for it was too late for even the most impassioned plea to have any effect.
The man folded his hands together, then said in an authoritarian voice, "Greg Eaton, I am Wayne and I have been tasked with deciding your fate. Let us dispense with pleasantries as you have no say in this matter." Wayne paused for a moment then continued.
"In life you were not a saint, but neither were you a sinner. Damnation you have not warranted, nor eternal bliss. However, you will be rewarded. In many ways your life was similar to mine. We were Americans, we shared many ideals, and asked the same questions. Thus you shall have the opportunity that was granted to me when I came here.
"For the next three days you shall be privy to the darkest secrets of the men we once trusted to lead us. Men who abandoned the ideals of a limited government of, for and by the people and were interested in only the propagation of their own power. Their tentacular reach touched everyone, but though many suspected, none could prove the insidiousness of their schemes.
"You, Greg Eaton, will have the chance to unmask these evil men. I will not tell you what I already know, for you are not to be denied the pleasure of self discovery. So I will send you to the root of all evil, our nation's own capital. There you will be able to move unobserved and unnoticed through every archive, file room, and collection of every government agency. For those records that are now only electronic, you will be able to tap into them from any computer. All passwords will be made known to you, and all security systems will allow you access."
Naturally Greg was stunned. "I don't understand," was all he could stammer. "I was just a lowly postal clerk..."
"Who had the sense to recognize that much was very wrong with the world. And that it all was centered with the government. Vile institutions they are, perpetuated by men and women of no moral character and driven by insatiable lusts for wealth and power. But you, Greg Eaton, you wanted so badly to refuse to give in to their demands. Unfortunately, you didn't believe that you could succeed. And mostly because you couldn't arm yourself with the knowledge of their heinous schemes. Oh yes, you suspected much, but proof was lacking.
"So now you will be given the opportunity to uncover the wrongs committed in the name of bureaucracy. Their great secrets shall be laid bare, as they have been for the others who have passed before you. There will be only one little restriction under which you gain this knowledge, which will be revealed to you upon completion of your mission."
The magnitude of what this...well whatever it was, was saying refused to sink in. Greg had thought little about the afterlife beyond the nightmares of eternal damnation brought on by second grade Catechism. Heavenly bliss sounded incredibly dull, little more than lounging around with nothing to do. But this, a free rein to study without constraint all of the foibles and plots he was certain were being sprung by the government? Preposterous! And even if true, then what was the purpose? Was he, Greg Eaton, an entity so non descript he could have been the inspiration for John Doe actually destined for something significant? Like returning to earth as a messiah to lead the rebellion against government excesses?
Not a chance. But Greg knew that he was hardly in a position to argue. If he thought his fate was out of his hands while alive, then this was not the time to plan otherwise. So he shrugged his shoulders and asked the ethereal judge, "when do I begin?"
There was a flash of light, then a few seconds of darkness. When he could see again, Greg was standing outside the main entrance to the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington, D.C. Still clad in the flannel shirt and baggy, faded levis from his last day on earth, he blinked in the bright September sunlight then hesitantly stepped to the main entrance of the glass faced structure. Obediently the door opened and Greg slipped inside.
Behind the monitors of xray machines that could see through a mountain, grim security guards scrutinized each briefcase, laptop computer, and purse as if it was being used to smuggle the Holy Grail. While through metal detectors visitors passed with the certainty that just an extra gram of iron in their blood would set off a cacophony of bells, buzzers, sirens and flashing lights. Greg felt faint as the reassurances of Wayne suddenly meant nothing. Leaden steps were the best his scant courage could manage as he eased behind an indignant looking woman seeing the sacred contents of her purse being unceremoniously dumped onto a table for further perusing. Staying as close to her as if they were Siamese twins, Greg forced himself through the metal detector. And could scarcely believe his luck as nothing happened.
But something was happening. He had never been in Washington let alone even seen this building, but he suddenly knew where every office was located, where the files were archived and most importantly how to access the FBI's massive data banks. His almost paralyzing fears supplanted by a near giddiness, he skipped down a hallway and entered a small, plain office.
Sitting on top of a government issue gray desk was a computer. Greg knew that it belonged to a certain Tom Kelly, agent extraordinaire who was vacationing in the Bahamas. His chair creaked as Greg sat in place of a man who had lived a life of danger and excitement. Greg had barely gotten settled when the computer sprang to life on its own. Startled, he could only stare as it flashed file after file of the agency's deepest, darkest secrets. Though displaying too quickly for human comprehension, the words were indelibly etched into Greg's mind. And he was more than dumfounded by what he discovered.
Less than an hour later he found himself whisked to the fortress like offices of the CIA. And once again into an abandoned office where the plots and sinister motivations of an organization ostensibly meant for national security were unveiled.
The Department of Justice, the White House, Congressional archives, and finally the crowning jewel, the Pentagon were Greg's next destinations. He had no idea how long he was subjected to the information bombardment but it did not matter. Everything he had wanted to know was now a part of his mind, synthesized and sorted into a cohesive concept.
But he had no time to reflect until with a final flash he was back in front of Wayne's desk. With a nod Wayne urged Greg to tell all that he had discovered. Greg was giddy to the point of euphoria. His hands flailed, his feet danced and his voice was cracked and incoherent as the vast fountain of knowledge he had just accumulated tried to erupt at once like a volcano. Wayne raised a hand in a calming gesture. Whatever force was behind it worked as Greg suddenly felt himself back in control. His thoughts and voice became clear and concise as he began the pronouncements of his discoveries.
"What I and others like us have long feared were mere trifles. America faces a conspiracy of subjugation so evil, so complete that there will not be enough rope to hang those responsible."
Wayne nodded approvingly as Greg then launched into the details.
"For a start who knows that every hospital in the country has been secretly planting microchips under the skin of every newborn infant for the last five years? The excuse when this is revealed will be so they can be tracked in case of kidnapping. The truth is that these children will always be tracked by FBI operatives who will also be transmitting subliminal persuasion signals boosting their appetites. In time we will have an entire generation of lethargic, overweight kids who will be unfit for military duty. So United Nations agents of the New World Order will be able to operate without fear of our armed forces."
Wayne's usually taciturn face displayed genuine surprise at that announcement. But as Greg continued the expression retreated to simple nods. Greg dropped his next bombshell.
"Of course the government has infiltrated deeply into all aspects the high tech industries. For instance, bet you didn't know that every computer keyboard manufactured since 1985 secretly records the fingerprints of everyone who uses it. These records are then transmitted by tiny wireless modems buried in the keyboards to the FBI and CIA's computers. And there's more. Every other computer accessed is also recorded and which files, if any, were looked at. "
Thank God my hands have never touched a keyboard, but for everyone else they have the potential nightmare of anonymous letters and phone calls telling them the government knows what they've been doing. Imagine if you had given in to human nature one day and looked at a few pornographic photos on the Internet. The next day you could be told that if you did not, say, abandon that organization you had just joined that is pushing for fair taxation, that your spouse, your children, your employer and friends would all be sent copies of what you had viewed in what you thought was the privacy of your home. "
And if that didn't frighten you then there's the reason there have been no official moon landings since 1972. The missions continued all right, but the launches were made from a remote island in the Pacific. And they were kept secret because along with the astronauts were sent engineers whose job was to construct a lunar penal colony. Which as of now is bulging with eight hundred of what the government considers the most notorious dissidents. People who advocate return to the limited government of the Constitution and are so charismatic that they could easily lead threatening movements. "
Killing them would make them martyrs and staged accidents of so many arouse too much suspicion, so simple kidnapping, drugging, then being sent to this lunar colony is an expensive but clean alternative. They are kept in self contained biospheres that produce just enough air, water and food to keep them alive. Meanwhile they have no communications with earth and obviously have no means for escape. While back here it is impossible for friends and loved ones to find them. No bodies can be unearthed, no sightings can be made, the victims would have ceased to exist as far as anyone is concerned."
A hint of most interesting crept across Wayne's face. Spurred on Greg continued, "getting away from space, here's something interesting about our closest ally, England. Queen Elizabeth is part of a conspiracy of the royal family to parlay her charms and influence with the press in the U.S. to build up secret support for her most insidious move.
"She is in deep with the international banking scoundrels, and together they hold the key to undermining the dollar. When that happens the U.S. economy will collapse, the government will fall, and chaos will rule. The queen in the meantime will use these same bankers to strengthen the British currency until it is dominant in Europe. Then she will visit us as a humanitarian gesture of the love for America England still holds.
"But once over here she will move quickly. Desperate economists will adopt the pound as America's new standard instead of the dollar. Our economy will recover but with the realization that it could fail again without British support. What is left of Congress will have been secret supporters of the queen and will then vote to dissolve not only themselves but the entire federal government. In its place they will make a final, unanimous vote to let Britain take over all former federal functions.
"Congress will then become members of Parliament, the Senate will be accepted into the House of Lords, and the queen will be named head of state. Her face will replace our heroes on our currency, 'God Save the Queen' will become our national anthem, and the National Football League will abandon the sport and become the National Cricket League."
Wayne gasped, "my God, these fiends would dare replace football?"
Greg nodded. "It would have taken over two hundred years, but the Revolutionary War would have finally been won by the British. Once again we would officially be colonies."
Wayne smiled as Greg paused. Greg was about to launch into another burst of plots but Wayne held up a silencing hand. "There is no need to go on. You have done well, Greg Eaton, much better than any who have gone before you. Your performance has made my decision regarding your eternal fate much easier."
Greg was euphoric. He knew that his useless life was to be returned as messianic persona who would lead the ultimate revolution against corruption and evil. Those who had scorned him would cower. Those who had ignored him would throw themselves at his feet in adulation. His head was swimming with all the possibilities, a leader who could act with impunity because he was already dead. No one could stop him.
Wayne fixed his ice blue eyes and said the words Greg knew would send him to immortal greatness. "Before I tell you your eternal reward, I must explain that minor restriction I mentioned before sending you on your quest....
The young man gulped nervously.
A blonde crew-cut only accentuated a pale face, while the army surplus
combat fatigues hung loosely on a lanky frame. Behind the imposing desk,
Greg Eaton stared hard at the young man. Then folding his hands before
him, he announced as officially as he could manage, "Doug Turner, you perished
defending your home against government agents. They wanted you because
you had dared not pay your taxes, register your car or your guns, and had
tried to steal what you were convinced were canisters of poisonous gas
from a local army base before they could be used against innocent patriots
like yourself. You were like me, you recognized the evil of our own government
and how they had penetrated every facet of our lives...."
Greg could tell Doug was listening intently as he was told that although he had been drummed out of army basic training for total ineptitude after only a month, he was to have complete access to every government secret. Beaming with the joy of impending great discovery, Doug thanked Greg profusely before being sent on his merry way. And when he was gone, Greg leaned back in his chair and sighed. He did remember to mention that there was one small restriction. Though as in his own case, those words were lost in the excitement of his mission.
"Good luck, Doug," muttered Greg, "because only after you have filled your head with this incredible knowledge will you discover the hitch. You will never be able to tell anyone about your discoveries. Instead you will sit at this desk and instruct the next poor idiot who flashes before you of his privilege to uncover every conspiracy imaginable.
"Then after he has returned you will join myself and all others who have gone before me in eternity. We will be allowed to discuss our findings among ourselves, but under no circumstances will anyone on Earth know." Greg sighed, then conceded, "oh well, at least the conversation should be lively. And at least it's not Hell. I understand that's in reality the largest post office in the universe."