It wasn't about the newsletter. Not anymore, not since the forces of censorship had made sure that nothing important or true could be found there any longer. No, as Karl Wintergreen sat in his old Citroen in the car park seeking the truth, he knew he'd never be able to tell anyone what he'd learned. Oh, he could put it on the Internet, probably. One more conspiracy theory amongst thousands, for all the good it would do.
No, Karl Wintergreen was not there as a reporter. He was there as a witness. Because someone needed to be.
The clues had been scattered, but he'd taken them all in. Not long ago, Carol from the coffee shop had arrived at work with a bruise on her face, which she'd ineptly attempted to cover up with makeup. Karl might have suspected her lunkhead boyfriend, Zorbar Ofthechimps, but he'd turned up for work at the Place O' Pets with his eyebrows singed off, suggesting that something had happened to both of them.
The same day was the first day he saw the concrete truck parked in front of the Handy Pavilion. There was no concreting work going on nearby, but tradies often went to the Pavilion for tools, so there was no reason a concrete truck shouldn't have been there. But it was there the next day and the next day after that--always in a slightly different parking spot, but always a good spot. Too good a spot for the Pavilion management to let some random vehicle park there indefinitely.
So for the last few nights, Karl had watched and waited. He sat in his aging Datsun hatchback with a thermos of herbal coffee and watched the concrete truck.
God it was boring. But boredom is the basis of truth. That's what all those people who complained about his newsletter failed to understand. That was why it was so easy for Them to manipulate everyone – with their interesting stories, their intelligible news.
So Karl watched and waited. Every so often the Super Centre security car drove by, and he ducked. More often, a random vehicle came past, taking a shortcut across the Centre carpark to avoid those tricky lights on Dawson St. Karl had timed it, once, and found that the shortcut didn't really save any time. But people just kept trying. The illusion of control over your own life. A delusion few ever really escape, Karl thought with a pitying shake of his head.
There was a van in the Pavilion car park. Karl had been so distracted by his thoughts he didn't notice it until the doors opened. As he watched, a half a dozen men got out. They dressed in silver costumes that shimmered in the sodium lights.
It was not what he had been expecting. Nonetheless, Karl took out his camera. An old fashioned one, a film camera not a digital. There would be no hacking his pictures. It was high speed film, so he didn’t need to set the shutter speed too fast, which was good. He caught a couple of nice pictures of the men as they went about their work, removing something from the van. What was it? A Masonic ritual? No, they were setting up some machinery. Something connected to the HAARP array, perhaps, a communications…
No. It was a mortar. Karl was disappointed for a moment at the mundanity of it. Nothing big, nothing important. Nothing connected to the New World Order, just some goons preparing to blow up a shop. Trivial nonsense.
"Even so," he muttered to himself, "I should probably do something about this."
He didn't carry a mobile, so Google (or as Karl thought of them, 666-gle) couldn't trace him. He could run to his shop and call the police, but he was pretty sure they were screening calls from his number since the Incident… Okay, since several Incidents.
Could he flag down the security car? No, it had gone by just before the van had turned up. The goons had probably timed that. Nothing for it then, but to keep taking pictures. If he couldn't stop this crime, at least he could record it. Hey, if nothing else, this would give him the newsletter of a lifetime, with enough prestige to win back editorial control from Mrs Lebeaux.
Snap! The goons had the base of the mortar set up. Snap! They fitted the barrel. Snap! The concrete truck began to stand up on enormous steel legs…
"Darn!" said Karl, who was so utterly shocked that he forgot how to swear properly. "Curses!"
The concrete truck unfolded like a puzzle, its undercarriage becoming legs, its sides splitting into arms. The driver's cabin became its chest and a head popped out of the sunroof, a shining chrome forehead above scruffy metallic jowls. One mechanical hand reached into its cabin/torso and came back with a huge steel cigarette that it placed between metallic lips.
Karl snapped away as the silver men desperately altered the angle of the mortar, bringing it low enough to aim at the metal monster. The mortar fired—Karl hoped he caught the flash—and the robot/truck thing grabbed the projectile out of the air. With its other hand, it took the concrete mixing drum from its back and dropped the mortar shell in. It clapped a hand over the end of the drum, and there was a muffled 'bang'.
"What else ya got?" the robot said.
The silver men were already running back to their van. The robot towards the vehicle, lurching about half a dozen ground-shaking steps before stopping and doubling over in a coughing fit. The van took off in a squeal of tires and a cloud of black smoke.
"You better run!," the robot wheezed. "Wait, hold up..."
Karl wound his film on. The spool was empty. He had the whole thing on film, wasn't that enough?
No. Somewhere deep inside, he knew it wasn't. He turned the key in the ignition and put his car into gear. The van was headed to Wellington Rd, but if Karl went around the Barbecue Imperium, then just maybe he could head them off.
He pushed the accelerator down and geared up, skidding into a handbrake turn in front of the kebab shop. He turned too quickly, almost losing control, but he was just barely able to avoid crashing into Hoonworld Auto. Now that would have been ironic. His wheels found traction, and he sped through the little lane between Carpet Junction and Carpets, Carpets, Carpets and his the Super Centre's main street just a moment too late to head off the van. His car caught the rear door of the van, which was hanging open, and sent it spinning into the gutter.
Karl slammed on the brakes. Too late. He mounted the curb, and then the whole world was spinning, round and round, wheels within wheels. He was punched in the face by something white -- an airbag, he realised. And then everything was still.
He didn’t black out. He was upside down, held in his seat by the belt and the airbag. And then he was moving again. He was turning, rising. Something was lifting his little hatchback, something that was making dents in his roof and floor. And then he was right-side up and stationary.
Okay. Could be good. Could go the other way, though.
Gingerly, in case his neck was broken, he undid his seatbelt and opened the door. Outside stood the robot.
"I'm Bruce," it said. "Who the fuck are you?"