by John Later
Waking up from his pistol-induced slumber, Daniel Webster rose his head up from his sore neck and attempted to focus his eyes so that his vision would be able to tell him exactly where he was. A few seconds had passed before Daniel’s vision sure cleared up to the picture of a dimly lit den with what appeared to be normal people all gathered around a television set. Something about this setting was unsettling to Daniel as he couldn’t comprehend how a room full with a good amount of people was able to produce dead silence. As the silence prolonged, Daniel’s inquisitive mind attempted to force his body out of the chair that he was plastered to but his legs were tied taught to the legs of the chair. A state of panic rushed across his whole body because after putting some of the pieces together, he knew that he was put here for a reason. While that reason was still unclear to him in his mental haze, he knew that whatever the people who put him there had in-store for him, it was far from good.
Daniel Webster was the best investigative reporter that the U.S had. This could easily be seen as an opinionated statement, but because the power that was entrusted in him by the U.S people to “bring the truth to light” was so magnanimous, this opinion was seemingly accounted for as fact. Early on in his career, Daniel aspired to be and ultimately became a “Muckraker” in all aspects of life whether it was going after the lessor of a tenement housing project or denouncing the CEO of a meat company for the disgusting product and the conditions that surrounded its production. These type of “exposé” reports skyrocketed Daniel into the forefront of American media and set off his career that was seen as bold and necessary to those who sought truth, and vile and deceitful to those who sought to hide it. During the Second World War, Daniel started to move away from companies with poor product quality standards to the things that the government had been conducting behind closed doors. Transparency in government was important to the American people at this time and after the First World War, skepticism about war-time policies and weaponry used on enemies as well as allies was at an all-time high. Daniel observed this trend and capitalized thoroughly by putting out articles about policies that FDR had towards the war effort as well as the magnanimous amount of money being invested into military weapons projects.
For a while, Daniel was stretched for stories until 1945, when the war in the Pacific came to a deadly stalemate. On small individual islands, soldiers were sent like cattle to the slaughterhouse and the U.S government was secretly looking for any way to end the bloodshed of their people at the hands of the Japs, or so they thought. Daniel got word through a friend in Los Alamos, New Mexico in April of 1945 that the U.S government had dumped a boat load of money into a laboratory in the town in relation to something called “The Manhattan Project.”
What made this laboratory so peculiar was that according to his source, the laboratory, before the war, was very small scale and fit into the aesthetic of the town around it nicely. However, since the war started, the laboratory’s space exponentially grew and more and more land from the small town was converted into parking lots for the expanded number of employees as well as cookie-cutter style houses that were “assumingly” for the numerous amounts of workers. Daniel knew that a laboratory like this expanding during war time exponentially only has big implications and decided that all of his time and effort in regards to his work should be utilized on “The Manhattan Project” because there was a possibility that he was sitting on top of a proverbial gold mine.
Daniel started to frantically tug his legs away from the legs of the chair in an attempt to loosen the epoxy-like bond that the rope had formed between his leg and the chair’s. Daniel’s efforts started to succeed as the rope’s knots slowly, but surely loosened up around his ankles. At this point the only thing that inhibited Daniel from untying the knots on the chair legs was the silence, which had grown over the minutes that Daniel struggled to get his legs free. Daniel was so used to noise and clamber because he worked in an office full of reporters where silence was usually a luxury, but here in this room, the silence almost became debilitating. He looked around at the shadows in the room and let out a hearty yell to try and get a reaction that the people were aware of his presence, but after his yell only the silence seemed to grow. Daniel slowly sat back into the chair for a moment and tried to piece together the moments that he had slowly remembered from before he was pistol-whipped and everything went black. In the middle of his thought, Daniel thought he heard one of the figures say something in a muffled voice, reminiscent of a loudspeaker in the way that the words were delivered.
“Hello?! What did you…you just say?” exclaimed Daniel as he suddenly leaned forward in his chair.
“Five minutes remaining…” the mysterious muffled voice replied to him faintly.
“In…In five minutes…What the hell’s happening in five minutes? Why am I tied up? What’s going on? I want some god damn answers here!”
Daniel’s research and effort was relentless in pursuit of finding out just what the U.S. government was working on under the veil that was “The Manhattan Project”. He narrowed it down to a few things like fighter jets that are invisible to the naked eye or a poisonous gas that has the same consistency of air, but was never able to get close enough to the truth. Numerous times, he would find out the name of a worker within the laboratory and would give him or her a call to see if the person would be willing to give some insight on what he or she was working on. Everyone gave the same answers whether it was “they don’t tell me what I’m buildin’!” or “If I say a word I’ll go to prison!” The investigation into the project turned up nothing until one day a man named Sam contacted Daniel’s phone.
“Yeah, Hello? Is this Daniel Webster’s phone?” hushed Sam.
“Who’s this and what’s it pertainin’ to?” snapped back Daniel.
“Listen I…I gotta make this fast. I’m gonna throw a lot of info at you right now ‘cause there’s not much time, alright?” explained Sam
“All right! Ya got me intrigued. Whaddaya have?” said Daniel
“My names Sam Onkel and I’m working on a factory in Los Alamos, New Mexico on this…well…this thing,” whispered Sam “My job is to stockpile Plutonium for…for something…I think I have an idea what for but I can’t say it over the phone, it’s too risky.”
“Plutonium? Radioactive Material, am I right?”
“Yes…Yes…highly radioactive stuff that can be used to build something…something that could end a war.”
“Listen, can I get an interview with you…in person? I can bring my voice recorder and everything and we can get this info out to all the…,”
“Listen, I don’t have much time left to talk to you, Daniel. I’ve mailed you a plane ticket to come down to Los Alamos to meet me. I’ll tell you everything you need to know in regards to the project. Meet me on the 15th of July at the Los Alamos Airport in the main terminal and you’ll get mostly all of your answers. I have to go now! Goodbye!”
“Wait…Wait…What if…” was all Daniel could muster out before he heard the sound of the receiver smashing down on the other line.
This information was good news to Daniel because he’d finally gotten his break on this story. For months, Daniel tucked himself away and sacrificed a lot of other important stories regarding the war and U.S politics just because he figured one day a break would come in this story and it finally had. Daniel saw a lot of news that passed him by that he could have gained him reputation such as the story about the Japanese being forced to live inside of internment camps or the sacrificing and downgrading that the average person had to make for the war effort. All of these stories could have been lucrative had Daniel pursued them, but the allure of the mysterious “Manhattan Project” drew him in too tight for other stories. A couple days had passed and the 14th of July had arrived. Sam made his good on his promise as he sent the tickets for the flight to New Mexico a couple days before.
As the plane was sitting on the runway Daniel pulled out his ticket and envelope to put everything back. As he was doing this, he flipped the envelope upside and a note came out sliding out. Looking puzzled as to why there was a note in the envelope, Daniel unfolded the note to discover the phrase “The Plastic People are Death.” This took Daniel aback because at the time the note was so random and had no pertinent meaning to his story or his situation. He then decided to grab his ticket to make sure nothing extra was written on there that might be able to tell him something. Upon his observation of the ticket, he then saw the words in bold-black print “One Way Ticket” right-centered at the bottom. Daniel was in such an anxious rush that he didn’t observe the ticket before he got on the plane, and just assumed that the flight would be round trip. Something about the tickets being one-way only was very unsettling to him, and this combined with the note he found in the envelope created a plane ride with a lot of questions and anxiety for the unknown.
“Two minutes remaining…” echoed the voice inside of the quiet room.
“Listen here! I wanna know who you are, and why the hell do you keep counting down?”
Daniel started to build up a little bit of worry because all of his questions would garner no response but only surmounting silence. It was then that, he decided that he needed to try and free himself from the ropes tied at his legs so that he could discover what really had been going on in that room. Working at the knot incessantly, Daniel felt the seconds slip by in his mind and knew that every fumbled pull of the knot meant that he just lost a couple of seconds of what might be his fate. Right as the faint voice in the room declared that there was one minute left, he managed to get both knots loose enough to slip his legs out of them. Daniel, at the announced 30 seconds, started to stand up gradually and begin to stagger towards the light switch on the left wall of the room.
Being in that chair, unconscious from a gun butt to the skull inhibited his walking skills due to the soreness that wrapped around his whole body. The finite seconds ticked down with every shuffle against the carpeted floor. The pain and soreness that radiated from his head wound down to every fiber of his being screamed out in agony with every shuffle of his feet. It was similar to torture in that he knew that every move would cause more pain then the last. Daniel wouldn’t wish this pain on any of his enemies especially the ones who put him in this room. However, the will to find out who-or what- was in the room with him superseded all pain, so drudgingly Daniel went onwards. With a few steps to go, the voice uttered that there were merely 30 seconds before-something unbeknownst to Daniel-would happen. At this point, his mind started to panic with the anxiousness that the unknown that stood before him would soon stare him face to face. Could these be his last moments? Could it be a test of some sort? If it was, what exactly were they testing? These questions spun around Daniel’s mind like a whirlwind as he stood only one or two slides away from the light switch. The voice was now counting down as the clock reached 15 seconds, with every second carefully measured to be said precisely as it slipped away.
Daniel’s left leg tightens with the first of his last two steps.
The leg lunges forward through the agony and plants itself firmly into the soft carpet.
Daniel turns to the others in the room and cries out “What the fuck do you want from me” as he preps his right leg for its final step.
The right leg rises up and stretches up as far as it can and is brought down to the carpet right next to the left leg to end its final journey.
Daniel flexes his hand to retain its feeling and slowly goes to flick the switch up but to no avail as it misses due to the severity of the darkness in the room.
His mind was fatigued, and thought for a short instant that he should’ve just left himself in the dark with the people who had observed him remaining anonymous. However, his will to know and to figure the anonymity out was too strong and he readied his finger for his next and final attempt.
“Nine…” His finger became a spear, jamming it precisely underneath the switch to rest assured that he had the right and exact position to flick the light switch up and not fail again.
Daniel readied himself to begin to flick the light switch which normally would be an easy task, but with his body drained and sore, it felt like he had to lift the weight of the world.
He began to muster what strength that he had into his finger and the light switch started slowly going up. His wrist started to cramp up, and the muscles in his arms burned as if though they were placed in a furnace.
The light switch reached just over halfway and the struggle seemed to be over as the light switch started to give on its own.
The light switch had gone all the way up and the lights flashed on instantaneously. With time almost reaching zero the light blinded Daniel for a good two seconds before his eyes focused on the fully-lit room around him. His eyes widened as the clock hit two seconds as he stared into the eyes of plastic people all set up orderly as if though they were living. He instantly remembered the note enclosed in the envelop and knew his fate was sealed as the clock hit zero. A flash like one that he’d never seen before entered the room. Everything instantaneously went black.
As Daniel reached the Los Alamos Airport, he got off of the plane and quickly made his way to the baggage claim and headed off to the main terminal to meet Sam. The atmosphere was tense and as he walked through the airport, the eyes seemed to be all on him. Everywhere he looked posters were pinned up with a picture of Uncle Sam reminding everyone that “Loose lips lose the war!” or “The work your doing WILL end the war!” The government propaganda seemed normal during wartime so Daniel shrugged it off, but the setting would’ve been eerie to anybody that wandered through that wasn’t from the town and wasn’t aware of the war taking place.
Sam was leaning up against one of the windows near the entrance to the main terminal when he noticed Daniel approaching him with no haste.
“Sam? Am I right?” Daniel said as he got closer to him.
“Yep. That’s me. Now, listen we can’t converse here because they got cameras all around this joint and if I’m seen with you, the feds will know something is off. My car is outside and running, so we can go to the diner and discuss “Manhattan” a little bit more.”
“All right, sounds alright with me.” Daniel agreed and made his wade behind Sam towards his car.
“It’s the green one right here.” Sam detailed pointing to his pale green Desoto convertible.
As the men both got in the vehicle, Daniel spotted what was a noticeably big green Army blanket draped in the back as if though Sam was covering something of interest. Engrossed by the blanket in the backseat, Daniel asked Sam as Sam started his engine:
“What’s in the back?”
“Oh…Back there,” Sam nervously laughed, “It’s…well it’s something that might get yo—-us into trouble!”
“Well, listen here Sam, I’ll do whatever it takes to deliver this story on this “Manhattan Project”! Now I suggest you tell me what’s under that blanket now.
As Daniel ordered Sam to tell him what lied beneath, the blanket stirred and a face appeared out of the cover. Grey hair and a weathered face that surely has seen combat and horror rose slowly out of the blanket. As more of the body came out of the blanket, the man could be seen wearing an US Army Officer uniform with regalia and pins all over the breast and lapels. Silently, the man unsheathed his Colt Commando Revolver and gripped the gun barrel in order to ready his strike with the butt of the gun. Daniel finished asking Sam the question and Sam turned to him and apologized as the officer smashed the gun butt and cracked Daniel right in the top of the cranium knocking him completely unconscious.
“Listen, Colonel, I really think we should let this guy go. I mean who cares if he eventually reports on Manhattan? Hiroshima and Nagasaki will have already been wiped.”
“Samuel. I need you to think logically here! This guy has a track record for exposing things that companies have done that are questionable in the ethics department. He has the people’s trust and ears. If this story gets out before the two cities are hit by the bombs then President Truman will likely be influenced not to do it.”
“Yes that’s true, but we can keep him captive here until the strikes are done and over with! I can understand keeping dummies inside of the houses to see how the effects of the bomb would act on human-like figures. Putting him out there is…well Sir, it’s down-right wro…”
“Don’t you fucking tell me what’s wrong or not wrong, son! These god damn Japs won’t quit until we back down! If we don’t get these bombs dropped on those targets, we could all be potentially fucked fighting a war on these little 10 by 10 plots of fucking useless island. I need the plan to go through full speed ahead. He stays out there and becomes a part of the test. End of story, Samuel.”
Samuel left the bunker’s viewing room shaking his head at the Colonel’s decision. The Colonel stared at the house where Daniel was put right at the base of the where the bomb was to be dropped. Looking at his watch, the grey-haired man put on his officer’s hat and sunglasses, started the timer and chirped into is walkie-talkie “Trinity is a go.” Over the loudspeakers all throughout the test site, blared the voice that stated “5 minutes remaining.”
“You’re a real American Hero Mr. Webster. Reporting what was best for your country. We would’ve told you how we came to make and ultimately dropped nuclear weaponry onto Japan to end this. But when you dig too deep, you won’t be able to get out of the hole that you dug for yourself.”