"The black mailbox," the man, known as General McAllester, whispered in a mixture of awe and satisfaction, "We're close now boys. I can smell them Feds wetting their pants from here."
General McAllester, who was neither a General nor a McAllester, addressed the comment to the camouflaged men hugging the ground nearby. The group was standing or crouching as the case may be, on an ill-used back road in the Utah desert.
"This here mailbox is the marker for Area 51. I can remember coming here a few years ago to watch the 'UFO' experiments them boys was doing with the alien technology they got at Roswell."
"Uh, sir," a scrawny boy spoke up. He was no older than 18, wore thick glasses on his beak-ish nose, and looked somewhat ridiculous in the cammo and fatigues.
"What is it Corporal Sparks!" General McAllester barked at the boy. The boy ignored the mean-tempered response.
"You're disregarding my theory again."
"That's 'cause it's a stupid theory," the General growled.
"Sir, it's just as likely that the government maintains contact with an alien society, exchanging information for technology. Area 51 is a government-sanctioned spaceport."
"Listen, son, I used to work for the government, I know how they work. You're pretty slick with a computer, but you just don't have any practical experience. I'm tellin' you, the government uses this base as a tech laboratory to orchestrate its conspiracy against the American people!"
"Gentlemen, please," a soft-spoken hulk of a man, called Humphrey, pulled himself from the ground where he had been busy looking like a small hill and stepped in on the argument. "We all have our opinions about the government conspiracy but now is hardly the time to debate. In just a few short hours we'll have the answers we need. It's certain that, whatever the case, the truth is in there," he jerked a thumb northward to their destination. There was a pause, then the General spoke again in a resigned way.
"Alright, men, lets review the plan," the General pulled a field-folder from his partially zipped jacket.
"Now as you all know, no aircraft are allowed to fly through this area. Nor does the gov'ment keep blueprints of the compound available on any file we have been able to access. So all our information of Area 51 comes from satellite photographs we managed to snap when we uploaded a subroutine to a spy satellite, thanks to the help of Sparks here."
The boy grinned at the compliment.
"It appears from these photos that most of the compound is subterranean. So we've based our estimates of its design from similar compounds the government has planted elsewhere, against the public knowledge. We can definitely expect sophisticated surveillance instruments for a half-mile or more out from the main entrance here," he pointed at a spot on the grainy black and white photo where the blurry outline of the tiny compound started.
"We have our mobile missile launcher parked another half-mile from our current position. When the zero-hour signal comes, an EMP missile will be launched out over the compound, releasing an Electro-magnetic pulse that should disable all unshielded electronic equipment. At that point we haul butt across the desert and break into the compound in our pre-planned commando pattern. Now there are a lot of variables that are impossible to predict. That's why you men have been trained to think on your feet. If tonight works out the way I hope, America will once again be a free nation. Now take your positions, and God be with us."
The men disappeared into the stubby desert foliage and all talking ceased until, minutes later, their headsets buzzed simultaneously, signaling zero hour.
In a well-coordinated show of military training and skill, the men set off at lightning pace across the desert, all guided by the glowing dial on their wrist compasses. They stayed close to the ground, dodging between stubby bushes and behind cacti. Three seconds later, when they had already covered a dozen yards, the sky lit up with the explosion of the EMP missile. Just before the blast, a signal from base closed a protective eye-shield over each man's face, so they would not be blinded by the blast. The brilliant explosion did not distract or deter the men from their onward rush in the least.
Seven minutes later, the General gave the hand signal to his men, indicating he could see the compound through his night-vision goggles which, along with the rest of his equipment, had been stored in a lead-lined pouch on his back to shield against the disabling blast.
The men spread out in flanking fashion and moved up to the wire fence that surrounded the compound. Wordlessly, a man whose code name was "Shed," removed a pair of insulated wire-cutters from his pack, and in two dozen clean snips had a hole open for the men to pass through. Once through the gate, they spread out again, searching for the inevitable security patrol. This actually lost them precious time, as they searched for guards that seemingly didn't exist.
"I don't get this," General McAllester risked speaking to Humphrey, the huge Rider that brought up his rear, "They don't have anyone patrolling the perimeter! No guard towers, nothing!"
Humphrey shrugged and whispered "They were probably counting on a completely mechanized security system that was disabled with our missile."
The General grunted, and signaled infiltration.
A dozen grappling hooks on ropes shot up to the roof of the plain, boxy cement building. In moments, the entire force was on the roof and "Shed" was hastily, skillfully dismantling the air-vent set into the concrete surface.
"We have 300 seconds until backup systems come online starting...now!" Sparks warned the group.
"Move it, people," the General hissed, as the rope was being lowered through the newly made hole in the roof.
The men were surprised to find that there seemed to be no massive underground complex at all. The entire compound was, indeed, simply a collection of modest, claustrophobic bunkers that occupied only one level. As they began searching the small compound for signs of occupancy, Sparks noted that the predicted 'backup power' was not kicking in as planed.
Two very surprised elderly men in dark suites sat around a foldout card table with a newly lit candle in the center. The cards they held in their hands dropped to the table surface as the group of civilian commandos burst into the plain, blank room and surrounded them, automatic weapons drawn and aimed. A few moments passed in silence as one of the old men started to stand, heard the safety click off weapons all around him, and sat down again quickly. The second man's mouth opened and closed like a fish in the throws of asphyxiation.
The awkward silence was broken by the flick of a match, as the General strode forth melodramatically from the doorway, finally lighting the partially soggy cigar he still held in his lips.
"Mind if I smoke?" he asked the men, and then chuckled at his own humor.
"Who... ARE you people?"
"We?" the General said, with mock incredulity, "Why these men you see around you are the greatest civilian task force ever to be assembled. We call ourselves the Free-Will Riders. I, the leader of this group, was discharged from the military a decade ago for investigating a security issue that the military thought might compromise them. I took the fall for THEIR mistake. Since then, I have scoured the country for men and women with expertise in munitions, tactics, security technology, and demolition. Most if not all of the members have background in the military. We have bided our time, gathering information, stockpiling arms, and hacking government files all for a single, noble purpose. And do you gentlemen know what that purpose is?"
The two men shook their heads slowly, wide eyed with shock.
"Well you should," the General spat, "Your foul group of manipulators are the soul reason we exist. We were formed for the express purpose of exposing the conspiracy against the American people!"
One of the old men put his head in his hands and shook it back and forth; the other leaned back, eyes to the ceiling, and muttered an obscenity.
"Light!" the general called over his shoulder. From somewhere in the room, two powerful field lanterns pierced the darkness shining upon the very pale-looking men in suits. Satisfied by this effect, the General picked up the candle burning on the card table, and slowly tipped it sideways, spilling hot wax on the leg of one of the men. The man winced but didn't make a sound. The General righted the candle and smugly stalked to the other side of the table, flipped the candle quickly upside down, and snubbed the burning wick on the leg of the other man.
"OUCH!" the man said, indignantly, "For crying out loud, what do you WANT from us?"
"I want to know EVERYTHING," the general said, pushing his face right into that of the seated man, and puffing smoke at him, "I want to know about the aliens, the experiments on the American people, Rosswell, and who killed JFK... EVERYTHING!"
"Fine!" the man shouted, his voice squeaking a bit, "A craft of alien origin crashed in Rosswell, from which we recovered alien bodies. We did autopsies and took DNA samples, then later cloned 'em. We've been taking the re-built alien craft for joy rides ever since. We regularly abduct Americans, do illegal chemical tests on them, erase their memory, and plant trackers in them. The CIA killed JFK and framed someone else. That what you wanted to hear?"
"We want documentation," the General said, looking casually at his fingernails.
"We... I..." the old man faltered and looked helplessly at his counterpart. The man across the table looked up from his hands and sighed.
"Tell them the truth, Ted. It's the only way."
The first man, Ted, threw his hands up and said, "Why not."
"Yes, Ted, tell us the truth," the General smiled. Now they were getting somewhere.
"There is no conspiracy," Ted said, simply.
"Oh, we've heard that line before," the General growled in disgust, "What you told us before was more believable."
"No, really. There is no conspiracy. It was all a hoax. A few well-planted clues, some 'unofficially' released footage, some trumped up documentaries, and a whole lot of denial and everyone was convinced that something was up."
"What?!" the General cried, while all the men around him began whispering among themselves in disbelief.
"Lies!" the General cried, "We won't take any more of your lies!" he pulled a pistol from a shoulder holster shoved it under Ted's left nostril.
"We want the truth!"
Ted raised his visibly shaking hands slowly.
"I'm going to get up out of this chair, walk over to that shelf there and get a folder with documents in it. It has proof of what I'm saying. May I do this with the reasonable expectation of not getting shot?"
"Take it slowly," the General grumbled, losing some of his bluster in what seemed to be slowly dawning shock.
The man did as he promised, slowly returning to his seat with a large, overstuffed black folder with a large white "Y" emblazoned on the front.
"Who wants this?" he asked, holding it up. The General grabbed it from him. Sparks stepped forward from the line.
"Let me, sir. I'm a speed-reader. I can verify the veracity of the folder with my palm-top, anyway."
The General shoved the folder at Sparks.
"I'd have given you the computer documentation, but SOMEONE wiped out our electronic systems," Ted muttered accusingly, "Now, while he's reading, I'll give the rest of you some background. That folder, 'File Y' we call it, was opened in the late 1940's. A group of University Scientists came to the government with a proposition. They asserted that the prosperity we were enjoying at the time, a prosperity brought about by the firm belief the American public held in the power of science to solve the world's problems, would dissolve within another decade if we didn't do something soon. It was within the interest of the American government to preserve this sense of prosperity, false though it was. The logical course would have been to start teaching Marxism, which disavowed religion, since religious ideals were the antithesis of Humanism. Unfortunately we had to seek other routes, since at the time Marxism was synonymous with Communism, which was our great Nemesis. The scientist suggested that in order for people to wholeheartedly embrace scientific Humanism and abandon decadent religious ideals, we had to give the people that one thing religion could offer them and science could not: something higher to believe in. We had to offer them something to look forward to, and most importantly, we had to offer them a mystery that they could glimpse, but could never fully realize.
"We found the solution to this problem in an unexpected place: the pulp magazines of the time. The concept of superheroes was just in its primordial root at the time, but in many ways it was a throwback to the mythical gods of the Greeks and Romans. One in particular, Superman, caught our attention. Superman was an alien, a creature from a society out in the mysterious depths of space that was more advanced than ours. He was a god-like man, a super-being that fought for truth, justice, and, above all, the American way. People all but forgot that the concept of a 'Super Man' came from a German philosopher whose rallying cry was the same as our own: 'God is dead!'
"Furthermore, the pulp magazines at the time were wrought with tales of alien creatures visiting our planet. The Government and the Scientist formed a complex, multi-stage program with one simple goal. We were going to convince the American public that there were alien societies out there somewhere that was both our enemy and our future. We could someday achieve their level of understanding and technology, but at the same time, the government was protecting the poor people from these bad aliens. The government and aliens would replace demons and angels, and science would replace God.
"Our first step in the process was to get some airforce pilot to swear up and down that he had seen flying disks in the sky. A few such reports, and the heroic American military opened 'Project: Blue Book.' We planted reports of UFO's, and marched around asking official-type questions and making various notes. Our project was more successful than we could have hoped. Soon people began seeing funny lights in the sky without us planting them there, and all kinds of pranks began to pop up. Faced with more work than we could handle with 'Project: Blue Book,' we were forced to close the program down, and give vague, inconclusive answers to public questions, like, 'No conclusive evidence has been found to support the existence of alien craft.' We couldn't actually give the public anything concrete, or else the mystery would be lost, and they would have demanded evidence we didn't have to give.
"'Project: Blue Book' only got the ball rolling. After that we occasionally had to do something spectacular in order to keep interest high, and our new religion of Science flourishing. Rosswell was one of these plants, as was the 'Alien Autopsy' tapes released thereafter. The videos were carefully tailored to look just on the edge of fake, but possibly real. And of course we kept denying everything."
The General seemed in a far off place as he listened to this explanation. His entire world was dissolving around him. The men were equally zombified by this outlandish tale.
"But," the General desperately searched for a bit of the ire he had had before. Some hint of the crazed idealism he had come marching through this righteous crusade on.
"But," he repeated, "What about everything else? Who assassinated JFK?"
Ted turned to his silent counterpart, "Want to take this one, Al?"
Al looked up, "Far as I know, it was Lee Harvey Oswald."
"But that's impossible!" the General cried, "All the evidence..."
"...Was planted," Al finished for him. "You see, around that time we were at the height of our new religion, and the death of the President seemed like a perfect opportunity to throw another log on the fire. That was... um... Ted, what was that guy's name? The one who came up with the JFK plot?"
"Ruffus Koggwell," Ted responded. Al snapped his fingers in triumph.
"That's right! Ruffus Koggwell. He came up with the idea of planting evidence for some sort of subterfuge surrounding Kennedy's death. A genius, really. The people were in danger of becoming too comfortable with the government. We needed to show them that there was more than they could possibly comprehend going on behind the scenes.
"Of course, despite our best efforts, Humanism has slumped off. Oh sure, we still have believers, but since post-modernist ideals took effect, Humanism is only one in a large group of competing ideals, and we'll never again achieve the prosperity that we had in the 1950's. Our project was downsized and declared outmoded and antiquated. Still, we try to keep the conspiracy theories alive. We hardly have to plant anything these days. Everyone is coming up with their own confessions of Alien encounters, which are, more and more, descending into the general mix of paranormal pseudo-science. Not exactly what we envisioned when we opened 'File: Y.' The only reason the government gives us any funding anymore is because they like us to keep up the illusion that government is a complex, mysterious organization which is in control, sees everyone, and knows exactly what they are doing.
"The honest truth is, we have no idea what we're doing half the time. I personally believe that the most outrageous piece of fiction ever written was '1984.' You know what would have happened if Hitler and the Nazi regime had succeeded in conquering the world?"
"What?" asked the meek, shell-shocked General, his cigar falling from his limp mouth.
"It would have been overthrown and descended into anarchy, just like Alexander, Caesar, and every other would-be world conqueror. That, or it would have been controlled by a bunch of committees and bureaucrats writing mission statements and alternative purposes for the people to follow, none of them the slightest idea what reality was."
"And... what is reality?" the General asked.
Ted and Al both shrugged.
"We have no idea," Al spoke, "We just know what ISN'T true."
"You're... you're both lying!" the General said with no conviction.
"I'm afraid they aren't," Sparks stepped forward, "All the evidence is here. What they say checks out."
"NO!" the General shouted at the top of his lungs, startling everyone in the room.
"No..." the General growled again, "We were right. This is just another dead-end cover-up by the Feds. No, we're going to get at the truth, even if it means we have to bust Washington wide open!"
He swung around the room madly, a renewed fury in his eyes.
"Come on men! There's nothing here. We've reached a dead-end, but that won't stop us! We're the Free-Will Riders, and we WILL uncover the conspiracy against the American people, do you understand me you sorry sops?!"
The men in the room all nodded unenthusiastically.
"Now come on, lets move out men," he turned slowly to get one last glimpse of the broken hope that was Area 51, and whispered, "And may God be with us..." then the General spun around and stalked with fury from the room. His men followed reluctantly behind.
Ted turned to Al.
"Five card stud?" he asked.