“Please, gentlemen, make yourself comfortable.”
I polarised the windows against the glare of a SoCal summer as they took their seats. My two visitors were the proverbial ‘odd couple’: Air Force General Branning looked uncomfortable just being out of uniform while his aide, Major Cain, would probably have remained cool, calm and collected while wearing a tutu and whistling ‘Dixie’.
Branning shifted in his chair, glowering, while Cain remained bland and unreadable. He crossed his legs. “Very well, Mister Conway, you have our attention.”
I inclined my head. “The fact that you came to me in the first place, a civilian private investigator, meant you didn’t want an internal enquiry that would have to log its findings. Now, the general here is a shoe-in as head of the Joint Chiefs but you want to be sure, absolutely sure, that nothing is going to come crawling out of the woodwork once his enemies start digging. Nothing that will tarnish his impeccable military record. I get that, the Air Force takes care of its own.”
Cain smiled with zero sincerity. “So we understand each other. Now, did you uncover anything worthy of our attention?”
I sat back and steepled my fingers. “A Nazi flying saucer powered by the souls of death-camp inmates crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1946. It was a German prototype salvaged at the end of World War Two, being tested by the United States Army Air Force.”
The general went red in the face but Cain raised a hand, forestalling any outburst. “An amusing little horror story worthy of any conspiracy website, Conway, but if there was the slightest scrap of evidence supporting these lurid and distasteful claims I’m sure it would have come to light before now.”
“Well, the OSS went through captured German files with a fine-tooth comb following the surrender, removing every reference to what the Reich Air Ministry had code-named, with no apparent sense of irony, ‘Projekt Vampir’. The CIA repeated the process after reunification, when they gained access to the East German archives. So as far as history is concerned, it never happened.”
“And we’re expected to believe that you, and you alone, have somehow uncovered this dark secret?”
I smiled. “Bureaucracy, Major, bureaucracy – it’s the bane of every cover-up. Prior to destruction, the source documentation was transferred to microfiche and consigned to obscurity in the Air Force archives. The technicians involved had no interest in the information they were handling and remained ignorant of its significance. The archives were updated to storage tape in the seventies, and then to a server farm in the nineties.” I sat back. “And that’s when your troubles really began.”
Cain curled his lip. “Oh, let me guess? You paid some teenage hacker in Iowa to trawl for dirt and this miraculously pops up?” He shot a cuff. “Please, I know a shake-down when I hear one.”
In response I removed a manila folder from my drawer and tossed it onto the desktop. Photocopies of US State Department documents spilled out onto the polished wood.
I toyed with my class ring. “A Serbian physicist called Viktor Hanesh constructed a capacitor to hold the life force released by a human being at the point of death. The saucer itself was built by Kraft Flugzeugwerke, a small firm who specialised in esoteric aircraft. Directional release of this ‘Orgone’ energy acted in opposition to the Earth’s gravitational field, creating zero-G flight.”
Branning snorted. “Bullshit! In any case, what has any of this to do with me? You’re talking about events that took place over seventy years ago!”
“Your grandfather, Piers Branning, worked as bagman for Henry Stimson, the recently retired Secretary of War. He toured those states which enacted the death penalty, lobbying for the list of capital crimes to be expanded – to secure a domestic fuel source. As this was the proverbial ‘Black Op’, it was his name on the patent for an ‘Orgone Accumulator’. It’s still on file. It’s unfair, I know, but guilt by association will be enough to stop your nomination dead in its tracks.”
The general sat, white-faced, while Cain rifled through the documents and then used his phone for a quick online search. He showed the results to Branning who winced, then nodded. The major looked me in the eye. “How much? I’m talking complete erasure, all hard copies turned over, your hacker silenced. And this is a one-time deal – don’t even dream about coming back for more.”
“Two-hundred thousand. And she’s from Venezuela, not Iowa.”
He frowned. “What?”
“My hacker. She usually works for the drugs cartels so knows the value of keeping her mouth shut.” I stood up, bringing the meeting to an end. “And so do I. You have my bank details. I’ll be in touch.”
Cain swept up the incriminating evidence and ushered Branning from the room without another word. I waited until their footsteps receded down the hall before switching on my desk lamp – actually a xenon projector – and turning to face the wall, close up.
My shadow bulged outwards, morphing into a monochrome mannequin of myself. I waited until colour spread out through the skin and clothing; until it became a perfect copy of the late Robert Conway, just as I was. My twin pulled clear of the wall and stood before me, nose to nose. Temporary manifestations rarely understood issues of ‘personal space’.
His voice was an eerie duplicate of my own, if one devoid of inflection. “They have made no connection between the release of human life-energy and the formation of Dark Matter.”
I recognised that as more question than statement. “They haven’t a clue, and the risk of scandal will ensure that the renewed interest in harnessing Orgone energy is quietly shelved. We will continue to feed upon their dead.”
“You do not find this form distasteful.”
“It has its advantages, its appetites. This can be a very tasty world.” I grinned. “A very tasty world, indeed.”