Operation Stingray Part 4 // PG. 2 of 3
I climbed into the cab of LaFarge's rusty pickup truck and we drove off into the night. He stayed to the country roads; tree branches made checkered shadows on his face as he spoke.
“2008 scared everyone,” he said. “Until then the US government had been living in a world of make-believe. We had defeated communism and stood alone as the world's last great superpower. We were the capstone on top of the global pyramid, free to enforce our will as we saw fit. There were cracks in the armor. The Towers, Iraq, Katrina. But to the people in charge they were just a few bumps in the road. No reason for alarm. Just tweak the strategy a little bit, put a black guy in the White House, that'll calm 'em down.
“But in the fall of 2008, the financial crisis hit. Global commerce stopped for a few days. Stopped. For a terrifying moment, the whole system looked like it could unravel. And every economist with a brain was saying the same thing: this is only the beginning. The old boys in charge had finally seen truth. They'd been having a picnic in a minefield, and the first one had gone off.
“In the 30’s it was easy. The great engine of American industry was still churning, and there were enough resources to pull the whole world back from the brink. Not anymore. Whatever resources exist are concentrated in the hands of people who refuse to give them up. Maybe a few old billionaires would fund cancer research to win points with Saint Peter, but by and large the financial elite had told Washington, 'We aren't paying for this mess. Figure something else out.' But it was a riddle without an answer. Who could stabilize the system? China? China is a house of cards, one real estate bubble away from collapsing like the Soviet Union. India is a backwater pretender, and the Russians are digging for oil like a smack head poking around for that last vein. No, there would be no New Deal. And history shows that when a government can't govern, eventually the people rise up.
“Democracy and commerce were no longer compatible. One of them had to go. So a plan was hatched. Funds were allocated. A tiny research station was built in the desert. All of it authorized by a top secret memorandum detailing the three phases of a desperate project: Operation Stingray.
“I was brought in for Phase One: testing and experimentation. I'm an engineer by trade, though I had dabbled in biochem in my youth. I detested the idea of working for the feds, but the money they offered was unbelievable. I flew out to Utah and walked through the doors of Defense Research Station 117 thinking I had won the lottery.
“It was weird from the beginning. They gave us a few vague directives, but never told us what we were actually working on. We weren't allowed to fraternize with anyone outside our immediate team, and we were under constant surveillance day and night. Eventually a bunch of us confronted the principal investigator, a man known to us as Dr. Dreiser. We told him it was ridiculous to expect us to accomplish anything when we didn't know what we were making. So he arranged a demonstration.
“He sat us all in front of a table with a mouse cage on it. He wheeled in a bizarre contraption on a cart and started typing on a keyboard. The mouse froze still. Dreiser typed something else and the mouse very slowly began to eat its own paws. I was shocked—sickened. I looked at Dreiser's face. He was grinning. The frightening, inhuman look of a man drunk on power.
“We were horrified. Several of us demanded to be taken off the project. But Dreiser told us all the same thing: You signed a contract. You belong to us.
“After that, they clamped down. We weren't allowed to call home, go outside, even talk to each other about anything other than the project. They posted armed guards in every room. It was surreal and frightening, like something out of the Twilight Zone.
“Then, one day, they woke us all up and told us we had completed our contractual obligations and were free to go. We packed into the back of an old army truck and drove away. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when the driver stopped the truck, ordered us out, and told us to march into the desert. He sprayed gunfire into our backs, and we collapsed forward in a bleeding heap. I was the lucky one. The shot went through my shoulder, missing everything important. I laid there on the ground as the soldier approached us. He popped two into the heads of every man down the line. I waited until he was at the guy next to me, then I sprang up and wrestled the gun from him. I gave him two to his head, then drove away in the truck.
“When I got back to civilization, I saw that the news was reporting the deaths of every member of the project and their families, all killed in tragic accidents. Car crash. House fire. Accidental drowning. I had apparently suffered a massive heart attack. But I was the only one whose family hadn't died with him. It was a message. Dreiser was saying, 'Don't even think of coming forward, or your wife and son will pay.' So I stayed in the shadows, determined to find a way to shine a light on this whole thing.
“I've been on the run ever since. They brought in a new team after us, and now it looks like they've moved on to Phase Two.”
“What's Phase Two?” I asked.