“So, mister Ghostpowers, why do you want to work for the United States Government?”
“Well, If I get a summer job, then I can make some progress on my student loans, and maybe my grandkids won’t be stuck paying them off.”
Raymond Ghostpowers sat at a solid wooden desk, in a darkened room. The one light on the otherwise empty desk was pointed in his face, making it hard to discern Mister A., the suit-clad figure across from him. He looked to be about mid-thirties, with black hair and a close-trimmed beard.
“If I may, mister Ghostpowers, you look a little young for grandchildren.” Said Mister A. “Are they time travelers? Clones? Alien hybrid clones?”
“Um, they’re hypothetical.”
“I see. Very good.” Mister A. made a note in his black, leather bound book, then turned his attention back to his interviewee. Raymond wasn’t sure if this guy was joking or not. He had never seen anyone use the phrase ‘alien hybrid clones’ with such a straight face.
“Any other experiences with inexplicable or paranormal phenomenon?” Continued Mister A.
“My grandfather was one of those douchey frauds with a paranormal reality show, back in the day. He even legally changed his last name for it. So yeah, that’s why I’m a ‘Ghostpowers’. I’ve been meaning to change it to something more conventional, but, you know.”
“So, no experience contacting, exorcising, banishing, or communing with undead or otherworldly entities?”
“Is… is that a real question? Like, why would they make you ask that for this interview?”
Mister A. made another note. “So no actual ghost powers. Do you have any have any training to resist advanced interrogation or advanced psychic interrogation techniques?”
“I’m not sure what that means?”
Mister A. lowered his black sunglasses, and stared at Raymond as if he were trying to investigate the back of his skull. “I’ll ask you again. No psychic resistance training?”
Mister A. pushed his sunglasses back into place. “Oh, you’re good, Ghostpowers. Very good. But can you make sandwiches for your country?”
“Yeah,” said Raymond, “I’m pretty good at that.”
“Well, mister Ghostpowers,” said Mister A., “here at Nevada’s Best Sandwiches, that’s all we’ll need you to do.”
“In another landmark decision, Congress has decided to shut down the entire judicial branch of the federal government, in order to relieve some of the financial strain on our nation’s Capital. The duties of the supreme court to interpret and enforce the intent of the US Constitution will now fall to courts on the state level. In light of this dramatic shift in structure and power, today alone, over forty thousand existing laws across the nation have been submitted for judicial review. Critics are calling this ‘the End of Order in America’, while supporters are optimistic about the amount of scrutiny and diversity of opinion that this will bring to laws in America.”
“So,” said Raymond, “Why did the government open a sandwich shop in the middle of the desert?”
Mister A. had just given Raymond a tour of the kitchen. Raymond had worked in a few restaurants before, and nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary. Same out-of-date stovetop, same disorganized racks of knives and spatulas, same shitty, grease-stained smell. By all appearances, this place operated exactly like any other sandwich shop. But the choice of location, and the question of ownership still piqued his curiosity.
“You need level nineteen security clearance before A. can answer that question.” Said Gustav, the head chef. “Hell, I’ve got level forty-eight clearance, and I still don’t know his real name.”
Raymond laughed. “Yeah, I guess I never asked. What does the ‘A’ stand for?”
Mister A. and Gustav only stared at Raymond. “The United States government is unable to provide that information to anyone without proper security clearance.” Said Mister A.
“Oh,” said Raymond. “Well, what level clearance do I need?”
“The United States government is unable to provide that information to anyone without level sixty-six security clearance.”
“Fortunately, mister Ghostpowers, the appropriate forms have been submitted to grant you level twenty-one clearance.” Said A. “Most government employees do not gain clearance beyond conditional level four. But this position has some unique responsibilities which necessitate access to some more sensitive information.”
“Sure,” said Raymond, “you probably use secret government meat or something.”
“In fact, mister Ghostpowers, I was just getting to that.”
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has terminated their infiltration of the Skullstar militia group today, after the New Judicial System declared it legal for individuals and organizations to own and operate nuclear armaments under the protection of the second amendment.”
“To answer your earlier question,” said Mister A., “Nevada’s Best Sandwiches was opened after the Unusual Artifacts Disposal Act of 2056 was signed into law.”
Raymond and Mister A. walked down a dark hallway, covered in browning tiles from floor to ceiling, and lit overhead by bowl-shaped stainless steel light fixtures.
“The name ‘Nevada’s Best’ was copyrighted by the federal government, as was the term ‘sandwiches’. We now control the exclusive rights to define and distribute those words.”
Raymond nodded, not really listening.
“We make sandwiches ‘in the middle of the desert’ for two reasons, mister Ghostpowers. First, the government requires a method of safely dismantling its supply of certain stockpiled materials. That is, our sandwich meat. Second, the IRS was shut down last year, after going over budget by nearly ten thousand percent, and the Dark IRS is still getting far less than they need to be really effective. Which is to say, we can neither confirm nor deny that we are in desperate need of cash. ”
“I’ve never heard of the Dark IRS.” Said Raymond.
The two came to an ancient supply elevator, gated off by a collapsable aluminum grate. Mister A. pushed the grate aside, and stepped onto the rusty platform, gesturing for Raymond to follow. Mister A. threw a switch, and somewhere above, a motor roared to life. The elevator lurched down, with the sound of squealing metal.
They continued their slow descent for a full minute. Then another. Raymond shifted nervously from foot to foot, wondering what could possibly be buried so deep underground. He started to panic, as he realized that they could suffocate if there was no way of getting fresh air down here, but then he noticed a distant humming, which must be the sound of air pumps.
“Are you familiar with the Roswell incident, mister Ghostpowers?” Said Mister A.
Raymond thought he had heard of something like that before. In history class? or maybe an old movie?
“If you don’t know about it, that’s just as well. The official report obfuscated certain key facts.” Said Mister A. “Anything they would have told you is a lie.”
The elevator came to a jolting halt. Row after row of fluorescent lights came to life as Mister A. slid aside the metal grate. Before them was an underground warehouse, with shelves upon shelves of sealed metal containers. Each unit has a backlit display, with an adjacent glowing keypad. The technology looked ancient, like something out of the previous century. The rows of containers stretched from end to end of the cavernous room. A grid-like forest of lights for as far as Raymond could see.
“The history of the twentieth century,” said Mister A. as he stepped forward, “contains quite a lot more than the government has shared with the public. You might even say there is a conspiracy of secrecy. The events of America’s first intergalactic war are known to fewer than two dozen people worldwide, many of them within this very restaurant.
“In the late nineteen-forties, the US Air Force engaged in combat with an unidentified flying object in the skies of New Mexico. The fallout and debris from that battle was quickly recovered by the government, but not before some locals got to it first. This was before we reverse-engineered our modern memory modification technology, so of course, rumors started spreading. We were able to keep most of it suppressed at the time, so it didn’t get any significant attention until decades later.
“What the world doesn’t know, mister Ghostpowers, is that that incident was the first skirmish in a ten-year war. The government had secretly developed a space division of the military, to combat the potential AstroNazi threat, so we were prepared for when the extraterrestrials attacked. They were far ahead of us in technological terms, and we barely survived the first few near-earth encounters. What those first few battles bought us, though, was a few scraps of technology, scavenged from the bodies of crafts we were able to bring down. Our scientists managed to crack their biggest piece of tech, the Genesis Drive. A reality-altering device, that makes the user’s imagination manifest in reality. When we harnessed it as a weapon to its fullest potential, we were able to turn the tide of the tide of the war in an instant. The extraterrestrials were smart, but their minds are limited in certain ways. They think a lot differently from us. Their idea of war is killing one enemy at a time. Whereas we humans were able to take a much broader approach.”
“Uh-huh, you’re fucking with me, right?” Said Raymond. “There’s no way there could be an entire secret space war without someone letting the word out. I mean, come on, how many hypothetical people would have needed to be in on it? A million? Ten million? I don’t know what the manpower requirement for an ‘intergalactic war’ is like, but there’s no way something like that could be covered up.”
“You forget, mister Ghostpowers, that I mentioned memory modification technology. Used en-masse, it made the cover-up quite possible.”
“It’s still ridiculous.” Said Raymond. “There would have to be some kind of evidence of a war. What about the destroyed spaceships? What about the alien bodies? Did the government just make all of that disappear?”
“They did.” Said Mister A. “And they stored it in a secure underground location. I think you might see where I’m going with this, mister Ghostpowers.”
Raymond looked around at the thousands of steel containers surrounding him. He realized that they were all roughly the size of small coffins. He suddenly felt very claustrophobic, as if the millions of tons of earth and rock above their heads were suddenly crumbling down on them.
Mister A. walked to one of the containers, and pressed a few buttons on the keypad. With a mechanical click, the lid raised up on its hinges, releasing a cloud of silver mist.
“Wait,” said Raymond, “earlier, you said that this restaurant was created to get rid of some… materials. Is that… is that?”
Mister A. pulled a vacuum-sealed plastic pouch from the container. Its contained some frozen grey substance, marbled with faint streaks of green.
“This,” said Mister A. “is our sandwich meat.”
He tossed the package to Raymond.
“Time to get cooking, mister Ghostpowers.”
“Shocking news today, regarding the recent developments within the Skullstar Militia. The group’s headquarters has been ravaged by an unknown group of assailants, leaving dozens dead in their wake. The forensic evidence of the bloody scene has been released, revealing that every one of the Militia’s members perished violently. Several victims suffered gunshot wounds, however most sustained deep cuts, severing vital arteries and internal organs. The nature of the cuts is unknown, but the examiners report that they were ‘probably inflicted by swords.’ The federal government has refused to reveal any details of their involvement with the massacre, but released a statement stating ‘The Skullstar Militia group was found guilty of tax fraud. Their assets have been seized.’”
Raymond vacantly squeezed ranch dressing onto a ‘pork tentacle’ sandwich.
He had tried to walk out after Mister A. showed him the storeroom, but was politely informed that if he did that, he could be charged with treason.
Fortunately, the shock and horror of cooking the flesh of sapient aliens wore off after about a week. Other than the occasional trip to an underground warehouse full of earth-shattering secrets, and undeniable evidence of intelligent life in the universe, it was a pretty boring job.
Mister A. rang up a customer. Raymond had assumed that Mister A. was the manager, or at least the director of the CIA or something, but it turned out that his job title was an anticlimactic ‘register boy’. Mister A. handed the customer his sandwich, wrapped in greasy white paper, and secured with a thin strip of masking tape. The customer only stared, unmoving.
“Is there a problem, sir?” Said Mister A., his arm still outstretched.
“The dark ones know your secrets.” Said the customer.
Mister A. sighed, and tapped the transmitter behind his ear. “We’ve got a code rosewood out at the register here.”
In the kitchen, the chefs got the message. Raymond looked about, confused. “I forget, is ‘rosewood’ the code for satanists, or rogue A.I.?”
Gustav grabbed a shotgun from under the toaster oven, and Leeroy, the dishwasher, produced a pair of handguns from behind the deep-fryer. Raymond was pretty sure that hiding firearms in the kitchen must be some sort of safety violation, but now was obviously not the time to dwell on that.
“You know how to use one of these?” Said Leeroy as he handed Raymond a pistol.
“I’ve never even held a gun before.” Said Raymond, as he tentatively accepted it.
“It’s easy,” said Leeroy, “just aim for the lungs.”
Raymond decided that that was terrible advice, but he didn’t speak up about it. Instead, he followed Gustav and Leeroy’s tactical approach to the kitchen door. Gustav, crouching low, peered through the circular window in the kitchen’s double-hinged door. He made some sort of hand gesture directed at Leeroy, then kicked the door open, and leveled his shotgun.
The scene before them had escalated. Two more cultists had entered the restaurant, wearing the generic dark robes. Their plainclothes leader was slumped unconscious over the counter. Mister A. had not moved from behind the register. He held his hands out of him in a submissive gesture. The cultists didn’t even flinch when the two gun-wielding chefs burst into the room. After all, they had a hostage.
Which was a goat.
One cultist held the animal up in both arms, and the other held a dagger to its throat. The goat was painted in runes and geometric circles. Other than that, it looked pretty normal, and generally unimpressed by what was going on.
“Drop your weapons!” Said the cultist with the knife. Gustav and Leeroy looked to Mister A. hesitantly.
“Do what he says.” Said Mister A.
The chefs slowly placed their guns on the ground in front of them.
“You too, kid!” Said Knifey, gesturing to Raymond.
Raymond considered the situation. How badly would it really weigh on his conscience if one goat died? I mean, it was a pretty cute goat, but still.
Then again, he wasn’t sure if he knew how to turn the safety off on his gun. He tossed it aside.
“Yeah, that’s right.” Said the cultist holding the goat. “One wrong move, and you’ll have have an uncouth quantity of demons up in this flavor emporium. And I don’t think that those circumstances will be agreeable to anyone employed by your fine establishment.”
Raymond finally understood the significance of the goat-hostage. He wouldn’t have figured that the cultists were threatening them with demon magic.
Probably because that was the stupidest thing he could have imagined.
“We know you’re hiding artifacts in this shop.” Said Knifey. “Our divination spells have detected it. Give up the relics of Satan, so that the armies of Hell might march forth into our world!”
“C’mon, it’ll be great.” Said the other cultist. “Armies of Hell are soooo metal.”
“Do we really have satanic artifacts in our storeroom?” Gustav asked, glancing at Mister A.
“Don’t look at me, I didn’t stock it.”
Raymond knew that he needed to do something. The cultist with the knife was looking edgier by the moment, pun not intended, and Raymond was starting to think that that goat might really get hurt.
Raymond’s mind raced. What could he say to these cultists? His only knowledge of demons and cults came from the countless hours of his grandfather’s show that he had watched as a child, before he was old enough to realize that it was egregious, over-produced garbage. Not to mention that it was all bullshit. Convincing-sounding bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless.
That gave him an idea.
“The goat’s left shoulder.” Said Raymond. “You meant to draw a teth, but you made a kaph instead. If that goat loses any blood today, you guys are both going to be short a few arms, at the very least. That goat isn’t so much demonic doorway as it is a lit box of dynamite. So why don’t you put it down slowly, and then get the fuck out of here.”
The cultist holding the goat glanced at the marking on its shoulder, and immediately recoiled, dropping the animal.
“Holy shit, he’s right. Kyle, you fucked up our demon goat, Kyle.”
Kyle grimaced in embarrassment, then recovered his poise long enough to shout a threat. “You haven’t heard the last of us, Nevada’s Best Sandwiches! We’ll be back, and we’ll have more goats. Goats you can’t even imagine!” He turned, black robe swirling around him, and ran out into the parking lot, fumbled for a few seconds before finding which pocket his keys were in, and climbed in the driver’s side door of his parked minivan.
The other cultist scrambled, trying to collect both the goat and his unconscious companion in his arms. He managed to throw the goat over his shoulder, and half drag his friend across the floor. He gave a polite nod, and managed a little wave before pushing his way out the front door.
Mister A. strode over to Raymond and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Good work today, Ghostpowers. I don’t think I would have noticed the kaph if you hadn’t been here. That could have turned very ugly.”
“For my own sanity,” said Raymond, “I’m just going to assume that everything you say is a joke from now on.”
Everyone laughed at that.
“No, really though.” Said Mister A. “I’ve seen shit that would tear your soul in half.”