In 1975 Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson published The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It remains a seminal work of conspiracy fiction. Today, The Omnivore continues a serial-fiction experiment: Illuminoimia.
Everything You're Afraid Of Is True.
Theodore Odell and professor Tim Tracer are in the clutches of the conspiracy!
Theodore Odell and professor Tim Tracer are in the clutches of the conspiracy!
Previously On Illuminoimia
|Cradel of Mir, Set Afire, Burning Man 2013|
Chapter 13: Last Flight Out
June 6th 2013. Atlanta
I’m broad shouldered and, as I said, somewhat … fat. When they cranked my arms behind my back and tied them with plastic restraints I felt the pain instantly. They forced me, frozen and compliant with terror into the back of the Humvee. I was oddly grateful for the sudden transition to frosty air conditioning and I shut up and lay there. I couldn’t see Tracer--but I heard him groan periodically.
By the time they got us to the Command Center, though, I was ready to complain. They took the bag off my head and I could see the glowing control system of the Humvee and various laptops and tablets.
“Take these off,” I said twisting to show my handcuffs. The man in the suit was on a blackberry. He looked up. I could see he was going to hit me.
“I will not cause trouble. My arms are going numb. Take them off and I. Will. Behave.” I looked at him. He weighed hitting me or not.
“They’ll come off inside,” he said. “Can you shut the fuck up until then?”
I could. He looked back down. We weren’t going to the conference hall where they’d gathered for the drill sign-up. The vehicle was moving at high speed past the cordons, out of the downtown ‘Green Zone.’ I could see traffic stopped--rows of cars gleaming in the harsh sunlight--and then the vehicle slowed and I saw metal walls of FEMA Trucks parked in rows. There must have been hundreds of them. I wondered if they were full of coffins.
The Command Center was at the Atlanta International Airport. They waved us through a checkpoint gate, recently reinforced, it appeared with what looked like an armored control area. The vehicle didn’t even stop--it just flashed its lights and they raised the metal barrier and retracted Severe Tire Damage spikes. When the door opened it was blistering outside. I could see rows of jets--stopped--on the blacktop. There must have been dozens of them, all with the windows in the closed down position. I thought of ‘Marty’ again. It wasn’t a good feeling.
“Get them in. Process--and go!”
The guards hauled us out. They had the same black masks and tactical vests over desert camo. With gloves on they barely looked human.
The Command Center was a massive hanger. You could fit a jet in here easily--but the main floor was covered with a maze of desks and networked computers--there were scores of people in a frenzy of action and movement. I could see a large projection screen with the Atlanta aerial map displayed and triangles I recognized as military units marked around outlying areas. I could see groupings of red triangles with circles around them. I’d played a lot of war games and I guessed the circles indicated the “likely” position of whoever they were tracking. There were blue triangles in what looked like defensive positions at the Atlanta edge. Defense from what?
There was an “office”--a building inside the hanger--and that’s where they took us.. Further back, towards the rear of the giant open space, though, I could see chain-link cages--holding cells--and mean looking German Shepherd dogs.
We are so fucked, I thought.
Fucked or not, when they took the plastic cuffs of it was enough of a relief that I was ready to do whatever they wanted just to keep my arms free.
Processing was, I think, like being booked at the police station. We got to look at a camera: they took our pictures. They made us say “Ahh” for a cheek swab. It’d been done to me before and I realized if they could match the material they would connect me to the other drill. In that case we were in big trouble. But I also knew it took days for labs to process genetic material … at least I hoped that was still true.
They took fingerprints. They made us look in a scope: Retina scans? I exchanged looks with Tracer--but although he’d stopped bleeding and started swelling, he was in no mood to demand a lawyer or complain about his civil rights being violated. Neither was I.
They split us up. I went to Interview Room 1. I’m sure they took Tracer to 2. There was a CCTV camera on the roof--but no one-way mirror. I kind of felt cheated. They cuffed me to the table and left me. I was thirsty and I had to pee. I waited.
I wondered if they would let me call someone. If they did, who would I call? My parents, of course--but what would I say? The story would take so long to tell--it would be so hard to explain. I mulled it over.
“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” It was a man in a crisp Homeland Security jacket and uniform.
“Yes. Could I get some water?”
He examined me.
“Do you want to tell me who you are working for? Then I can take you to the head.”
Shit. “It’s kind of hard to explain. I’ll tell you everything--but come on, man. I’m assuming you don’t want me to piss in your interrogation room. You’re gonna spend more time in here than I am no matter how this goes.” I looked at him as hard as I could. I was sure the fucker was going to let me stew--but he relented. “Okay. Behave.” He got me up.
The trip to the ‘head’ went surprisingly without incident. When he took me back, hands cuffed in front of myself, I saw he’d had someone deliver me a plastic cup of water. Chained to the table at the wrist I had to bend forward more than a little to drink it--but I did.
I looked up at him.
“Okay, now, Theodore--who do you work for?”
“I don’t work for anyone. In fact I’m pretty much long-term unemployed.”
He gave me a dim look.
“This room is fairly comfortable. Our treatment of you--with a national security emergency unfolding outside--will be by the book--but if you don’t cooperate in here,” he said, “you go out there. To the holding pens. You find it that much harder to get back inside when you finally decide you want to cooperate--and you will. Trust me.”
I believed him.
“I got … messages on my computer. I can show you if you bring me a laptop and let me log in. Someone--someone … creepy … gave me a FEMA code and sent me to a training session. I … found the Professor online. He seemed to know what was going on. We came down because we thought someone involved with the training drill might plan to set fire … to the city. We wanted to stop it.”
“Did you distribute a large amount of controlled Schedule 4 drug to a drill member?”
“I think I’d like my lawyer and I’m going to remain silent now,” I said--I said it with a sinking feeling.
The man blinked at me projecting weapons-grade bullshit of honest surprise.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “Were you under arrest? Did someone--” he gestured at the door, “read you your Miranda rights?”
I managed to look at him tiredly. He put his hands down on the table with a BANG.
I cut him off “This is A Matter of National Security, son,” I mimicked him, glaring upwards. “We can hold y’all indefinitely--ain’t you never heard of the ‘Gitmo?’” While I hoped it was annoying--I also hoped he didn’t beat the living fuck out of me--but I was mad.
He laughed. It was a dangerous sound.
“I watch a lot of movies,” I said, kind of deflating a little.
“Good,” he said--that fake dangerous smile still on his face. “Good news! I suppose you think you’re the main character--the--” he sneered “--hero.”
I met his eyes. I wasn’t feeling brave enough to say anything that would make him more angry.
“Let me show you something.” Glee. Malice. He got the key in his hands and unlocked me.
“Now you could try to run,” he told me--”and I wouldn’t mind that one bit. I’d get to practice on you.” His fingers bit into the flesh under my arm as he took me too the door. “You’ll want to see this.”
We were in the hall when one of the women from up front started trying to get his attention.
“Hold on, honey,” he said. “The Detainee and I are going to have a look at the non-compliant section. Get Hudson.”
I tried to meet her eyes: this guy is about to torture me--but she was fixed on him--I might as well have been invisible.
“Sir--we have a FLASH--”
“Honey: shut it.”
She followed us--he guided me.
The room was at the end of the hall. The door had two bolt locks instead of one and a heavier door with a metal frame. Inside the walls were covered with foam pyramids like I’d seen inside of recording studios to dampen sound. There was a drain on the floor: they’d pulled up the thin carpet leaving patches of glue.
In the center was a restraint gurney on a swivel. I knew what it was for: it was to hold the victim upside-down while they poured water into his nose and mouth.
If you aren’t familiar with water-boarding, let me fill you in. It’s not what it looks like in the movies--even the nominally correct ones like Zero Dark Thirty. Water-boarding works like this: they restrain you and they lower your head below your chest. This means water gets into your nasal passages when they pour it. The use a plastic bag with a hole cut in it to put over your nose and mouth. This doesn’t work like you probably imagine it works. Firstly, when they pour the water on you, waiting for you to exhale, you begin to drown. Water gets in your nose--and you inhale some of it into your lungs: you can’t close your nose like you do your mouth so you have no control. You get tiny wisps of air as you drown.
The water hurts. Water up your nose burns--water in your lungs hurts. This is bad--you convulse--but none of it is as bad as what happens in your head.
When you get water in your system that way--when you are not getting sufficient air--it triggers the gag reflex and then it triggers your Instinctive Drowning Response. This is the psychological panic condition that makes swimmers--even experienced, professional ones who are in danger--hazardous to their rescuers. You can no longer think rationally: you’ll take anyone down with you, clutching blindly in a mad attempt to survive. You are no longer you: you are dying.
This is what makes water-boarding, properly done, devastating. You can actually drown (they keep doctors on hand). You will throw up--swallow your vomit--so the published protocols suggest keeping you on a liquid diet for a few days before the interrogation begins. Sometimes, in the depths of panic and despair, people have been known to just give up. I’ve read dispatches from the War on Terror of subjects simply inhaling water as fast as they can--trying to die. It’s that bad.
I could see the plastic hood--the swivel gurney (designed so they can stand you up fast to get the water out of your system and start trying to revive you). I could see the hose with a little sprinkler head like for a sink--for the water.
“Would you shut up and GO. GET. HUDSON?” He looked damaged--thrilled--insane. He looked at her, wild-eyed--and she recoiled--but:
“Sir: the FLASH is about HIM.” she pointed. It was the first time she’d acknowledged me.
“What?” It did not compute. She had addressed him in Latin or something.
“It came up on the wire when we ran his ID,” she said. “There’s a standing FLASH order for both of them--we have a transport standing by.”
He turned on me and I could feel his breath on my face.
“Who the fuck are you? Who the fuck do you work for?”
I wish I’d been able to say something smart-assed--to push his buttons--but I just shook my head: the promise, however slim, of getting away from him--of getting out of this--was too strong. I was physically shaking when they came with soldiers to take me away.
The plane was some kind of long range private jet--gleaming, white--looking like some kind of science fiction rocket ship on the runway. From the ground we could see the tan leather interior and it looked to me like the promise of freedom and life.
To the north I could see massive clouds of gray and black smoke rising like titanic pillars into the sky. Tracer stood next to me--both of us flanked by armed Homeland Security guards looking at what had to be the complete destruction of the entire Atlanta downtown district--maybe more. Maybe a lot more.
“Holy fuck,” I said.
Tracer nudged me, though, and I followed his gaze.
The passenger jets--there must have been twenty of them or more--were waiting in a line. As I’d seen before, the windows were all shut and down. The jets in front were being serviced: there were tankers with FAA logos on them running tubes into the rear ports of the plane. Fuel? I wasn't sure. The tanker didn't look like fuel. It had Bio-Hazard spider warnings on it. I could read a code on some of the tanks: S0-M4.
The men working at it were clothed head-to-foot in plastic chemical hazard gear and filter-masks.
I could see something else too: a pallet truck with racks of … pods on the back. High-tech looking oval shaped things like stacks of giant eggs. I could make out a logo like an Egyptian eye and the name: Applied Optics. The technicians were affixing one to the wing of the lead plane while the other planes, all without passengers, waited their turns.
What the hell was this? I thought of ‘Marty’s’ story. By this time, of course, I was certain it was all true.
“Board the plane.” Our hands were cuffed in front of us (thank God) and they maneuvered us up the staircase to the private jet. Inside it was amazing--stylish--comfortable. Leather lounges, a stocked bar. Curved tables. A woman in a black business outfit looking entirely official and wearing a headset nodded to us. The soldiers sat us and drew safety belts across our chests, locking them in.
“Affirmative,” she said to someone. “We take possession.” The soldiers nodded--and exited.
She turned to us--the door was closing automatically.
“I will release you,” she said, “when we are airborne. The pilot’s door is a security lock system--even I cannot get it open. If you do not behave you may be executed when we land. Is there anything about that which is unclear?”
We both shook our heads.
She sat. “Ready for takeoff.”
The plane moved--turned--accelerated--we felt the faint jolt of lift-off and the soft thud of the landing gear retracting. The angle of ascent was steep--far steeper than normal and the acceleration was much higher than I was used to on a regular flight. It was rocky--jarring even--where the plane touched the expanding front of super-heated air. We punched upwards and I could see, through the windows Atlanta burning. At the base of the smoke columns were what looked like hot coals all aglow. These were buildings--skyscrapers--on fire. I could see, for the moments we were low enough, snakes of traffic stopped and snarled in the path of the advancing flames. I could see crowds of people--a churning mass of motion--on foot, trying to escape.
“It’s like Dresden,” said Tracer, horrified--and in awe. The woman said nothing. The plane leveled out, she unbuckled and rose. She bent forwards to each of our hands and opened the cuffs, taking them and stowing them.
“You may move about the cabin. There are drinks--but do not drink too much,” she said. “Where you are going you will need to be in your right mind: you are not out of danger--not by a long shot.”
There was something about the way that she said this that scared me even more than the Homeland Security man who was looking forward to torturing me: it sounded like she was sincere--like she was trying to protect us--and she recognized that somehow, maybe she couldn't.
“Where are we going?” Tracer asked.
“You are going,” she said, her voice soft--reverent--even as the windows darkened electronically to opaque mirrors, “to meet the True Kings Of The World.”
Continue to Chapter 14: The World Trade Organization