When the Sky Falls:
By Joseph Bendoski
The sky fall events that take place in this book are actual historical events. At times, I have shifted certain aspects from one point in history to another to make the timeline of the story more compact. The end of the book contains the chapter notes that detail all historical alterations I have made. During the alpha and beta reader phases of the book, many people told me they tried to buy ‘The Nature of Sky Fall Events’ by William Stephenson. This is not a real book but something that exists within this fiction, because so many have shown an interest in it, I will compile and release it when the series is finished.
Chapter 1: The Day the Sky Fell
“What makes you believe a lie? I’m not asking how you know someone is lying. What makes you believe? Because if you don’t understand how that works, then you won’t know when you’re being manipulated.”
William Stephenson, The Nature of Sky Fall Events
Porto, Portugal. October 30, 1988. 8:13 p.m.
The lights flickered and went dark, that’s when it started. Luis reached up and adjusted the bulb with his fingers. The hot glass burned his skin. He gritted his teeth as the sensation grew stronger. He doubted the bulb was the problem. The TV, fan and even the street light outside the apartment all died in the same moment. “Is this normal for an earthquake?”
Car headlights flashed through the windows reflecting off Renata’s long, dark hair. “It’s not an earthquake. They already said that.”
Luis let go of the bulb. Only a moment ago, the emergency broadcast system had come on the air. It’s strobing red light, and high pitched siren blared through every apartment. It was followed by men in lab coats being interviewed. They warned everyone that something was coming, and before they could finish the power cut out, the one thing they had said was, “it’s not an earthquake.”
The street outside the window was still lightless, and Luis went to check the fuse box. It wouldn’t do much good. If the entire neighborhood lost power, it clearly wasn’t a fuse, but at least it was something to do.
Renata took his hand. Her fingers trembled. “It’s not the fuses; it’s not our lights. Let it go.” Behind her, the old cement walls were spidered with cracks. They had been like that when they moved in.
“I don’t know what else to do.” He pressed his lips together and looked out the window. Outside, a family loaded into a car; the trunk overflowed as the father kicked at it until the latch held. They piled in, each with a pack on their lap. The mother sat in the passenger seat. In her hands, she held a pistol. Her husband got in, and the car roared to life. A few people emerged onto the street carrying packs, or bags. They all headed east, away from the coast. That’s where the scientist said it would start, on the coast.
“The phone lines,” Renata’s voice wavered, “They use a different power source than the electrical grid, right?” She wiped at beads of sweat forming on her forehead. “For emergencies, right?” She swallowed hard. “I’ll try and call my mom,” She picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. The lines in her face deepened the longer she held the phone. She frowned and jabbed at the disconnect lever several times. “The phones are dead.” Her skin paled. “The phones,” she licked her dry lips, “are dead.”
Luis was still for a long time. Strange muscles deep in his stomach twisted. Something terrible was happening, and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. He didn’t even know what it was. There was a worry in her soft brown eyes; he wanted to protect her, keep her from feeling this way. He walked over and put his hand on Renata’s cheek then kissed her. “We’re leaving.”
She nodded towards the bags they’d started to prepare midway through the broadcast. “Do you think this will be enough?” She rested her head on his chest.
The electricity surged back, lights blazing to life. The TV flashed it’s red warning again. After a moment, it changed to a camera feed from inside a helicopter. A reporter bobbed in and out of the frame. “We’re flying over the city of Vila de Conde, only a few kilometers from Porto.” He pointed to something off camera. “While it seems a much weaker force is headed this way, it will strike here first. That should give us some idea of what to prepare for.” The wind whipped his hair wildly and drowned his voice out. The camera focused in over the ocean. White edges of curling waves shifted as they crashed against the shore. City lights reflected on the water; then the whole city blinked out. “What the hell?” The camera jerked up over the blackened city. A loud guttural cry screeched through the TV speakers, and the reporter's voice shouted, “What in God’s nam—” The image on the TV shook and rotated like someone dropped the camera, then the screen cut to static.
Every beat of Luis’ heart pounded in his chest, teeth, and fingers. He waited for the static to end, for someone to come back, to tell them what happened.
Renata grabbed his hand; her pulse was rapid; throbbing in the vein on her neck. When she spoke, the words sounded strange like her mouth was dry after hanging open for too long. “What’s happening?”
Through the window, they saw a car slam into the small market across the street. Glass shards toppled down and shattered on the hood. Two men got out and kicked at the remaining jagged edges. With sacks in their hands, they hustled inside and filled the bags with food and supplies. They tossed them into the backseat and doubled back for more. A box of spaghetti fell out of the passenger side and burst open. Noodles splayed out on the pavement, breaking under the boots of the men as they hurried back and forth.
“I need to get something.” Luis rushed to the bedroom and pulled a pistol from under the bed. He loaded it and placed several ammo boxes in a bag before returning to his pack in the living room.
The static on the screen finally ended. A news anchor sat at a desk; sweat dripped down his face. He wiped at his brow. “It’s clear now, from this footage.” A small image on the side of the screen grew larger. It was a distant shot of the city of Vila de Conde. The entire coastal edge was gone. The hotels, resorts, beach houses. All gone. Some bits of rubble smoldered in the darkness. “This has been some sort of attack.” He stopped, and his face became stern. He sprayed saliva as he shouted at someone, “I can’t … God damn it … I can’t say that on TV. No one will believe it!” He shoved the desk over and stood; then turned and walked a few steps towards the back of the set.
A husky male voice came from off screen. “Do you believe it?” There was a pause, but the anchor kept walking. The husky voice spoke again, pleading this time, “Someone has to tell them. They have to know.” He yelled with urgency in his voice, “We saw them!”
The newscaster stopped and looked over his shoulder at the camera. “Tell them to run.” He disappeared off camera, and the screen went to static.
The lights flickered a second time, then went dark. Luis held his hand over his mouth. He stopped breathing for a moment and counted his heartbeats. He waited, but the lights didn’t come back.
With heavy packs strapped to their backs, Luis and Renata staggered into the street towards their car. A traffic jam built up behind the vehicle that had crashed into the market. People dashed inside, stealing food. The narrow European street swelled with a growing mob as they disembarked their cars to investigate the problem.
A man got into the obstructing car and attempted to reverse out. The center of the frame teetered on the curb, and the wheels spun over the slick cobblestones.
A massive man with a thick beard exited his truck. “What’s wrong with you?” He thrust crude gestures with his hands, then stopped and summoned the other stalled drivers to the stranded car. He pantomimed his intention.
Seven men gathered around the small European car and tipped it onto its side, but the vehicle still blocked the road. They shoved and kicked, but the road wouldn’t clear. Thick-beard threw up his hands, gathered his gear from his car and started walking.
Luis’s eyes widened. “I don’t understand it.”
“Do you need to?” Renata gripped his shoulder, the tips of her nails bit into his skin. “They told us to run.”
Abandoning their car, Luis and Renata joined the panicked herd. They ran, shoved and bumped into each other as they maneuvered around the empty cars. The weight of the pack made Luis unstable as people jostled against him. As each person collided into him or reached out to stabilize themselves, his balance wavered. The straps dug deep into his shoulders. The heavy load labored his run. People were constantly pressing past. He made Renata go first so he could keep an eye on her.
A tall man with wide shoulders shoved Luis into the side of a car. He stumbled and grabbed the mirror to keep from falling. Renata screamed. He turned as she plummeted to the ground a few feet away, disappearing into the mad swarm of human bodies.
Luis surged forward ramming people until he found her. He tried to help her stand, but the mob kept pressing forward, and Luis fell on top of her. A foot crunched down on his hand; then a knee jabbed into his ribs. Droves of people crashed against his body. His hair got caught on something, and it ripped a patch from his skull. A trickle of blood dripped from his scalp onto Renata’s face.
Luis pressed his lips to her ear. “The gun is in my pack. Fire the gun.” He didn’t feel her searching the bag, too many hands, knees, and elbows jabbed and thrust into him, but he heard the gunshot, next to his ear. It thundered, and his whole body tensed. The thundering didn’t end. His ear rang, and it felt like someone was trying to hammer a nail into his brain. He saw Renata’s face, she was shouting, but he couldn’t hear her anymore, couldn’t hear the crowd, the waves of pounding feet on stone, just a high-pitched pierce in his ears.
The crowd stopped pressing down on him. They’d backed away. He got to his feet. Renata still lay on the ground. Luis dragged her into the bed of a truck. She cried and kept trying to say something, but he couldn’t hear it. Her face flexed in pain. He scanned her body and saw the ankle. Human bodies, human feet don’t bend like that. The tibia seemed to be jabbing down through the foot, forming a large bulb at the bottom, and the ankle swelled thicker than her leg.
The crowd swarmed back. Luis slumped down beside her. His eyes lingered on her face, her eyes. She couldn’t walk, not on her own. Whatever was coming would catch them. How will you take care of her? Luis took the gun from her hands. He studied the pistol for a long time, its dark oily finish, the weight of it in his hand, a weapon. If he couldn’t run, then he would fight. He crawled out of the truck bed to the car just behind. He rested the pistol on the hood and stared out into the darkness. Luis saw the white curling waves. Whatever it was, came from the ocean, he knew that. He waited a moment, watching the water, trying to see it. Nothing, just darkness. He pulled the trigger then looked at Renata. Broken. Helpless. His eyes welled up with tears. Fight. Even if you can’t see it. Fight. He fired again, fired until the gun was empty.
Pedro stood on a grassy hill overlooking the city of Porto. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Flashlights bobbed in the dark like swiveling dots, spreading away from the coast and into the countryside. He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. It came away with a mixture of dirt, sweat, and mud. He’d marched his family through the dust cloud of the exodus. He and his wife, Beatriz, had fought with sticks to protect their young children as they ran through the streets. The blood streaks on Pedro's knuckles were only partly his. He reached for the canteen around his neck and poured out a small handful of water to wash his hands.
Beatriz slipped her fingers through Pedro’s gray-streaked hair. “Can I have a drink?” In her arms their two-year-old slumbered, dirt crusted snot clung to his nose. One arm hung loosely away from his body.
Pedro lifted the canteen to his wife. “Anything new on radio?”
She finished her drink. “Still just static.” She kissed her son on his forehead, and her wet lips came away powdered with dust. “I turned it off an hour ago. We should check again.”
“Yeah.” Pedro nodded and headed towards the tents and campfire. His two older children were sprawled out next to the flames. On a tree stump sat a battery powered radio, its antenna tilted toward the city. He could make out the larger buildings by moonlight, but nothing electrical brightened the horizon. He flipped the radio on. Static buzzed through the speakers.
“You have to help it.” Beatriz approached and placed her hand on the antenna. The static cleared, and a voice filled the camp.
Pedro’s entire body stiffened at the familiar voice. The reporter who had refused to say what he had seen, the news anchor that had walked off the camera. The man who told everyone to run. His voice was heavy with emotion. He admitted he was an actor, and the entire scare had been a hoax. He took a deep breath and repeated the message.
“Holy mother of God.” Pedro dropped his head into his hands. “It wasn’t real. None of it was real.” His voice trembled. “We left everything.”
Beatriz stumbled and then lowered herself to the ground. Her eyes welled up. “We’re safe.” She kissed her son repeatedly. “We’re safe.”
Pedro jerked up. “Safe?” He raised his voice, the tone sharp, “Safe?” He thrust his arm towards the city and pointed. “They lied to us.” He picked up a rock and lunged to his feet, running towards the distant city. He hurled the stone into the open plain below. “Why!”
After a long moment, Beatriz pulled him close. “The power is still out. That was real. Something happened.”
Pedro stared down at the city. The flashlight dots had changed direction, but the city remained dark. His body numb, he slumped down, never taking his eyes from the city. The message on the radio continued to repeat. It had been a hoax, a lie. The radio cut to static and a single light sparked in the city. It grew into a massive flame taller than any building. The fire burned brighter throughout the night but never spread. Something had happened, not the lie they told, but something.
The Old CIA Building, Langley Virginia. 10:09p.m.
Silas Cooper sat behind his desk reviewing surveillance reports. His black hair slicked with a heavy gel that reflected the light. He ran his hand through it and some collected along the edge of his finger. He rubbed it aggressively into his skin until only a sheen remained. Someone knocked at the door but opened it before Silas could respond.
Costly, in a vested suit, entered holding a stack of Portuguese Escudo bills bound with a rubber band. He swaggered over to Cooper’s desk and tossed the money down. “Guess what?”
“I don’t have time for your bullshit. What do you want?” Silas’ lips curled downward, and his chin tightened.
Costly flashed a crooked, toothy grin. “There’s been a Sky Fall Event in Portugal.”
The room went still and Silas chuckled. “Finally.” He let out a contented sigh. “How big?”
“Half the coast. Multiple cities.”
“Jesus.” Silas’ smile faded. “Where’s Stephenson?”
“Shit, you’re not going to like it.” Costly hung his head. “As far as we know he’s in London —“
Silas cocked his head to one side, then back to the other. He pointed at his colleague with the file in his hand. “Now, I know you're full of shit. I ought to break your teeth for this.”
Costly held up his hand apologetically. “No jokes. It happened, and he is that close, but,” he directed Silas to wait with an index finger. “He doesn’t have his plane with him. He’ll have to take the trains, and that should buy you some time.”
“Not enough.” Silas pocketed the money. “Get me Stephenson’s list. Cross out anyone not fluent in Portuguese or Spanish.”
“Already done.” Costly pulled a file from his briefcase. There were two columns of names; all but one were crossed out.
“Jay Nichols,” Silas read. “What’s his experience?”
“Two weeks here in Langley.”
“Are you God damn kidding me? You want to feed a puppy to the lion?”
Chapter 2: I’ve Seen This Before
“We see the sun rise and set, never feel the dizziness of twirling, but believe it’s the world that spins. We don’t see the germs on our hands, but still wash them before we eat. Seeing is not believing. That’s not how belief works.”
William Stephenson, The Nature of Sky Fall Events.
Langley Virginia, October 30th, 1988. Five hours before the sky fall event in Portugal.
Jay Nichols ran his finger along the words etched into the wall of the Old CIA Building: “… And the truth shall set you free”. Cold, polished stone slid under his fingertips, smoothed and buffed by the army of agents who did the same every day before work. Funny that an agency dedicated to secrets founded its motto on truth. He withdrew his hand back and read the words again. Perhaps the organization had become something very different from what its creators had hoped.
The scent of coffee and pumpkin spice swirled from cups in the cardboard holder. He checked his watch, took a moment to enjoy the last rays of natural light he would see all day and headed inside.
Past the security desk and a sea of cubicles, Nichols knocked on Henderson’s door. His muscles tightened. Speaking with Henderson was never quiet. A mild yell was his lowest volume. Probably left over from his years in the military. Nichols imagined droves of training officers screaming in Henderson’s face, saliva flicking into his ear, and then the redhead screaming back. He’s probably half-deaf.
A deep voice boomed from beyond the door, “Come in.”
Nichols nudged the door open and set the tray on the side of the desk.
Henderson rested in a hard, wooden chair that looked like it belonged to a cheap dining room set. His weight shifted, and the chair strained audibly, his body was a mass of muscle, not the action hero or model kind of muscles, but freakish, more a solid blob of muscles attached to a small head. On top of his head sprouted thick, blazing red hair, buzzed to a fine stubble.
The aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin spread into the air from the Styrofoam containers.
Henderson’s face twitched. His brow furrowed and he focused on the coffee. “Why’s it smell like that?” His eyes jerked up.
“Well,” Nichols' voice rose a few notches, and he rubbed his hands together, “it’s fall, and they had this flavor, and …” he paused. “It smelled so good. I thought I’d get you one.” He shrugged and extended the aromatic drink.
Henderson twisted his head to the side for a moment. His eyes shifted to the cup then to his subordinate several times then he slapped it out of Nichols' hands. It crumpled against the metal edge of the garbage can, spilling caramel brown liquid onto the carpet. Henderson spoke through clenched teeth, with rhythmic intentional stalling. “I told you. Exactly. What to get. Because that’s exactly. What I wanted. Not this shit of yours.”
Nichols hung his head, his voice low. “I know what you ordered.” He picked up another coffee from the tray. “I got you the other one, so you could try it.”
Henderson jerked the cup away from Nichols. “Get out.” He sniffed the contents. “Go file until you learn the meaning of ‘exactly.'” The gruff man slumped into his chair and slurped his drink. “I don’t want to see your face for a week.”
In the hall, Nichols smiled. He suspected that Henderson’s reactions were overdone on purpose, a way of weeding out young agents who couldn’t keep their cool under pressure. This wasn’t his first time being sent to the filing rooms for messing up the coffee order. He’d learned that trick his first week. He had to be careful, though, it was a fine line to walk between incompetence and forgetfulness. The first week had been an experiment. He wanted to know how Henderson would dole out punishment, but it couldn’t be for anything serious, nothing that would end up in Nichols’ personal file. Only an idiot with no interest in career advancement would write up someone for screwing up the coffee order. So, he intentionally ordered the wrong coffee. He was sent to the filing room. Now, Nichols spent a great deal of time plotting on how to get sent back.
He descended a cement stairwell. Artificially dry air filled the lower room to preserve the paper. The CIA was slowly trying to digitize. That’s what it meant to be sent to the filing room. Nichols would sit at a desk typing data into a computer. Un-redacted CIA files. No long black strips of ink covering secrets, names, and dates. These were clean, raw files.
Each page was randomized to prevent the analysts from knowing too much about what they were working on, but Nichols had come to the CIA for a reason; to study Sky Fall Events, and for the moment, this was the closest he could get, sitting at a desk hoping to get a page. He’d never actually gotten one, but he’d seen one. His eyes wandered the room constantly looking at the names of cities, the dates, and countries. It had been two computers down from him. In the top right corner, it read: Chile, 1944 SFE.
The abbreviation could have stood for many things, but the U.S. was in the midst of the Second World War. Only something incredibly interesting could catch its attention in a small country like Chile, and then there was the acronym: SFE. Possibly, Sky Fall Event.
Nichols knew that title was specific to the CIA. In all his studies of mass hysteria, he’d never seen it used anywhere else. In college, he’d written a paper about the mass hysteria following the War of Worlds radio broadcast. A fictional radio story about Martian invasion had sent millions of Americans into a panic in 1938. They barricaded themselves in their homes or fled to the countryside. The morning after the nation demanded that something be done. The FCC regulations for broadcasting were changed, and the Hadley Contrail study was organized. Nichols paper criticized the study for its conclusion that such an event could never happen again. Because it did happen again: Chile 1944, Ecuador 1949, Buffalo 1968 and on and on. But the Hadley Contrail study stopped all research on these incidents of mass hysteria. They proclaimed it a perfect storm, an event that could only happen once in human history. They were wrong, but whenever anyone proposed studying them again, the people with the power over scientific grants would refer to the Hadley Contrail study conclusion: “never again.”
Nichols argued that the studies should start once more. He proposed new methodologies and personality profiling. Several professors loved the paper and submitted it for publication.
A week later at Nichols apartment, a man calling himself Jones appeared. In his hand was everything they’d submitted for review. Blunt and honest, he admitted to working for the CIA and the government would greatly appreciate if Nichols didn’t publish his paper. Jones had called large-scale mass hysteria Sky Fall Events.
That’s when Nichols decided to join. He hadn’t been assigned to that project. Their mistake. He wasn’t just curious about the events. He’d lived through two of them, once when he was seven, and again at eleven. His memory of the first was hazy, but the second had set his course. It introduced him to psychology, and he’d spent hours in the library reading about various theories to understand how it was possible to change the foundational beliefs of people in less than an hour.
In the basement, the sounds of conversations died, the hum of cars pulling in and out of the parking lot disappeared. Nichols opened the door to the filing room.
Behind a desk sat Kelly, a mountain of a man pressed into a suit so tight it looked like the buttons would pop any minute. His eyes glanced up, and a southern accent spilled out of his mouth. “Pissed Henderson off again, did ya?”
“Yep.” Nichols nodded and made his way towards the computers.
“Hold up.” Kelly half stood and held his hand up, gesturing stop. “No typing today, we need another gopher.”
Nichols hesitated. The saliva in his mouth built up, and he swallowed it in one large gulp. “I … I thought you had security guys doing that.”
“Couple guys went out last night and got food poisoning. It’ll only be for a day or two.” Kelly hitched his thumb towards the area behind the desk. “Have to leave your jacket here, and we’ll do a body search at the end of the day.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“Nope.” Kelly grimaced. “Protocol.”
Nichols’ shoulders slumped. He stripped his jacket and emptied his pockets.
Kelly scoured the items in the tray, “No lighters, or cigarettes either. We can’t have open flames near the files.”
Once the regulations were explained, Nichols headed into the long rows of files. In a side room, several analysts reshuffled everything before distributing them to the typists. Afterward, it was brought back and organized once again.
Nichols fetched a box identified only by a number, and took another one back. It went on like that for hours. He ate lunch and started again. There were no secrets leaking into his memory, no interesting stories to read as he typed, just endless, mindless box carrying.
He stood in the row scanning for #2005861, then hefted it from the shelf and headed toward the chaos room, as he called it. His legs ached, it was different than exercise when the muscles burned, this was a gradual ache that started in his feet and spread into his lower back. A marathon only takes a few hours, but Nichols had been standing or walking for almost seven straight. He paused and placed a hand on the wall to stretch his legs.
A voice came from the end of the aisle, “Jay Nichols.”
He froze. His mind scrambled through the day for any violation he might have made while dealing with all America’s worst secrets. Despite the temptation to peek in the boxes and see the unfiltered covert truths, he hadn’t. Maybe he’d taken too long with this box, and it had spiked their curiosity. Maybe they’d noticed his wandering eyes while he typed away at a computer and they were coming for him. Maybe … hell, it could be anything.
A man with tight curly black hair, wearing a suit that moved and shined in a way that advertised it had cost thousands of dollars, stepped into the hallway. He held up a small bag. “You’ve been reassigned. Your plane leaves as soon as I get you to the tarmac.”
Nichols lowered the box. “What are you talking about?”
“There’s been a Sky Fall Event in Portugal.” He turned and gestured for Nichols to follow. “Let’s go. Your field director will explain everything on the way.
Financial data sheets tracking stock markets across the world cluttered Trevor ‘Costly’ Benson’s desk. Selections were circled in red. Each one showed a dramatic crash, individually worse than anything that had sparked the great depression, but they never branched out beyond local economies, and they always bounced back, sometimes within the same day, other times it took as long as a week. No recession, no depression, just an incredible opportunity.
Trevor rapidly clicked the pen cap, and stroked his hand down his face, collecting bits of sweat from his forehead. Each time a Sky Fall Event occurred the market crashed and rebounded. The problem was his sample size only had six events. It could be a correlation, unrelated. He chuckled. No. They’re related. Crashes like this existed nowhere else in history. But he didn’t have enough data to predict if the trend would continue. He plucked at his lower lip.
The most recent event also happened in Portugal, a small market, unlikely to be noticed by most the financial world, so the dive in stock value might not be enough to trigger stop-loss actions. If that happened, there would be no crash. He steepled his fingers under his chin and flicked his tongue into the corners of his mouth. If you don’t do something, you’ll be stuck in this God damn job forever, and every son-of-a-bitch a who ever met Jones will keep calling you Costly.
The data sheet from the War of the World scare rested on top of everything else on his desk. The crash and rebound of that week equaled the return most people expected after twenty years. Trevor salivated again. Twenty years of investing condensed into a single day. Screw it. He picked up the phone and dialed Kirk Hamilton, his broker.
The voice on the line rasped with irritation, “Listen, jerk, I didn’t give you my home phone so you could call in the middle of the night. The market is closed. Whatever your stocks were worth at closing bell hasn’t changed. Now F— “
“I need you to dump all my stocks,” Trevor’s voice was calm, but firm, “first thing in the morning.”
Silence came from Kirk’s end of the phone for a long moment. He cleared his throat. When he spoke, his voice was sharp and alert, “What the hell are you talking about? Let’s talk about this—”
Trevor cut in louder than before, “No, just listen. Tomorrow any major company centered in Portugal will crash hard; their entire market is going to collapse.”
“Honest to God you sound crazy Trevor. Come by my office. We’ll talk about this.” Kirk took a deep breath. “What happened? Your girl leave ya? Never decide your finances after a breakup. Doesn’t end well.”
The line went quiet except the rapid clicks of a pen. Trevor spoke in a slow voice with a loud volume, “I’m not drunk, and I’m not broken hearted. This will happen. It’s not insider trading. Sell everything. Watch the Portuguese markets. During the week, maybe even tomorrow, after the crash, their stocks will turn. Buy up everything with the money from the sale.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t have time to explain this. If my stocks aren’t sold by noon, I’ll get a new broker and put a bullet in you for wasting this opportunity.”
“Trevor,” the agitation and pandering faded from Kirk’s voice. It became energetic, “Don’t bullshit me. What do you know?”
“Can’t tell you, but if you want to change your world, you’ll do the same.”
“Hey man, if you’re spamming calls on this trying to trick the market they’ll get you for that. Intentionally spreading false rumors about the market is illegal.”
“No bullshit. I’d show you myself, but works got me swamped for the next few days,” Costly said.
The line was quiet for a long time. Kirk started speaking at a rapid-fire pace, “Alright, I’ll bite, but if you’re wrong, I’ll put a bullet in you,” he repeated the threat back.
Trevor hung up the phone, they could banter for some time, and there was work to do. His stomach turned over, and a small bit of bile gurgled up in his throat. He shuffled the data sheets into a stack and scanned through them again. Did I sell the cow for magic beans?
From a drawer, he pulled a sheet of paper filled with numbers. He applied the cipher and called the remaining phone number. No answer. He tried every five minutes for the next two hours. No one ever answered. Something was wrong with the remaining members of the Sky Fall investigation team.
Costly checked his watch; God damn Kirk for pissing away so much time. He contacted the people in charge of random number generation on radio frequencies near the Bahamas. The message was simple, to contact their handlers at the main office.
He pressed his palms into his bloodshot eyes, then shook his face as though it might somehow make up for the lack of sleep. The radio broadcast would continue trying to contact the team all night. Costly needed to catch a flight. Time was precious; people’s memories eroded, and the more they told their stories after that first night, the more they changed. They would lose their value, their accuracy, and if too much was lost, then once again the secret to creating a Sky Fall Event would elude the CIA, and Costly. The team had to know. They needed to get to Portugal now.
Chapter 3: To Move Mountains
“The principal result of the witch-hunt system was that the poor came to believe that they were being victimized by witches and evils instead of princes and popes. Did your roof leak, your cow miscarry, your baby die? It was the work of witches. Preoccupied with the fantastic activities of these demons, the distraught, alienated, pauperized masses blamed the rampant Devil instead of corrupt clergy and the rapacious nobility.”
Marvin Harris, Quoted in The Nature of Sky Fall Events
Inside, the plane’s ventilation system hummed. A cool breeze poured from a small AC unit above Nichols’ head, making his face cold but doing little to fight the heat. He ran his fingers along the soft leather seat of the private jet. This plane didn’t belong to the CIA. It’s possible, it belonged to the field director, but why would someone that wealthy work for the CIA? Maybe he knew someone? In that case, what type of deal was cut in exchange for its use? Nichols’ hands sweat, and he dried them on his pants.
Silas Cooper strode down the aisle from the cockpit, a glass of water in one hand. He stopped at the chair next to Nichols and deposited five large red pills on the oversized armrest. “Take one every four hours. They’ll keep you awake and force your body to adjust to the new time zone.”
A firm gel coating reflected the light. Nichols held one in his fingers. “What’s in it?”
“A lot of caffeine and some other stuff I don’t remember. They’re very effective.” Cooper placed the glass of water on the arm rest. “Take one now. We have a lot to cover before our arrival.”
Nichols pocketed the pills. “I’ll wait till I’m tired.”
“Suit yourself.” Cooper placed a thick file on his colleague's lap. “You’ll be working with William Stephenson. He’s a consultant on the project.” The director held up a finger for silence when he saw Nichols’ lips part. “Yes, he’s the man you’re thinking of. He’s studied Sky Fall Events for almost fifty years now. He knows more about them than anyone alive.”
Nichols’ jaw slacked. “No way.” William Stephenson inspired the fictional character James Bond. The CIA was created in part because of his recommendation to President Roosevelt. Children who wanted to be spies dreamed of being James Bond, but men, with jobs, and responsibilities; they dreamed of being Stephenson. Nichols swallowed an excess of saliva. “How did he get involved?”
“Long story, but in the 1930s he was the world leading expert on persuasion in the media. When Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds sent America into a panic, he rushed to study it.”
“That was the first Sky Fall?” Nichols tensed his lips and narrowed his eyes. “But I thought it was just a fabrication by the newspapers, something to convince people not to trust radio.”
Cooper laughed. “It’s all bullshit. It’s what we want people to think. All the major studies of the War of the Worlds scare concluded that it would never happen again, so people stopped investigating them, but by the 1960s Sky Fall Events were happening often enough that people were getting curious again. We needed a way to dissuade them. The Contrail and CBS studies interviewed tens of thousands of people, of course, there were some who didn’t believe, or who lived in pockets where nothing was happening, or never heard the broadcast. All we had to do was find those interviews and publicize them. Change the focus. It started to look like a fabrication.” He snorted, and the sound of rattling snot sounded from his nostrils. “Throw shitty science at people, and you don’t have to lie to them, they will happily lie to themselves and believe whatever makes them most comfortable. They don’t care about methodology, sample size or any of that crap. It’s easier to accept that greedy corporations dreamed up the Great American Scare, then face the possibility the people’s fundamental belief about reality can be rewritten in less than an hour.”
“So, it was the first. Orson Welles started it all,” Nichols said.
Cooper cleared his throat and pressed his lips into a line. He pointed to the file. “No, but it’s the first time anyone paid attention. To tell the truth, in the beginning, only private organizations and individuals studied them seriously.” Cooper let out a long sigh. “But eventually our funding dried up. We needed more, and the best place to get it was a wealthy government, so we presented it to the CIA.”
“You're telling me that the CIA bought the idea?”
“Not exactly, at the time their biggest fear was chemical weapons, or weapons of mass distortion. Those types of weapons were getting the most funding.” Silas flipped the file open to the section titled: ‘History.’ “Their impact isn’t direct damage, but the panic they produce. A good scare can empty a city overnight, collapse an economy, cripple a government or enemy force.”
Nichols stroked his chin. “But those are illegal in war so you presented a new idea. A weapon of mass distortion created out of nothing but words.”
“Don’t be a dick. We all know you’re smart.” Cooper’s grainy voice lowered, “You asked a question. I’m answering. Shut up and listen.” He pulled out a cigar and lit it. “Yes, we promised them a weapon, only because they were too stupid to understand what Sky Fall really is.” A large cloud of smoke fumed out his nostrils. “The power to manipulate human belief.”
It was the question Nichols had pondered since he was eleven. It had been a quiet Sunday morning. His parents dragged him to church and a barbecue in the evening. He couldn’t remember the sermon or the scriptures they’d read, but he always wondered if anything had been quoted from the book of Revelation, a biblical book prophesying how the world ended in the last days. That night, despite their religious beliefs, their weekly worship, and daily scriptures; his parents, his friends, his community believed that aliens existed and were destroying the world. Not the apocalypse they believed in, not the rapture they waited for. Something very different. Their foundational beliefs changed.
Cooper held his cigar over an ashtray. “It’s more than the power to change the world. It’s the power to rewrite it from scratch.” He leaned forward and pointed out the window. Far in the distance, the Appalachian Mountains silhouetted the horizon. “For a single man to move a mountain, it would take a miracle of biblical proportions, but for a million men, all you need is some shovels.” He leaned back and puffed at his cigar. “That’s what Sky Fall gives us. The power to make people believe and act. Shovels are the easy part.”
“Heavy.” Nichols lowered his face into his palms. “If this is so important, why am I here?”
“Stephenson is a pain in the ass; that’s why.” Cooper curled his lip and crinkled his nose. “His contract requires I provide an agent with less than two years experience from his list to work with him. I think the bastard does it so we can’t figure out what he’s working on.”
“I thought he was consulting with us,” Nichols said. The sneer on Cooper’s face spoke volumes of the animosity between the two men. It was confusing. If they both worked to understand Sky Fall, why hate Stephenson. If he was the expert why fight him?
The director jabbed his cigar towards the file, spilling red burning ash across the manila surface. “That’s what the God damn paperwork says. If anyone asks, that’s what you say.” His voice raised and the muscles in face tensed. “The truth is that Stephenson and the CIA both want very different things.” He took a deep breath in and relaxed. “Your job is to study him, learn from him, get him to trust you. And,” Cooper wagged his finger, “remember you work for us, for the United States. Its interests are your interests. Don’t let him convince you otherwise.”
Nichol’s face paled. “What does he want to convince me of?”
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