"I've figured it out."

Yulian slams his drink on the counter with a hard enough impact to crack the glass. It doesn't break. The bartender eyes him warily.

"There is no conspiracy. It never existed. Nothing had to be covered up at Kholat Syakhl because there was nothing they had to cover up."

The bartender sets down the glass he'd been polishing. It's 2pm, and no one else is in the bar. The cold wind rushes outside. "They solved it last month. Didn't you hear the news?"

"That's the thing! They solved it, but then guess what, it happened again. Another group of hikers goes missing. Almost at the exact same time as news of the reveal breaks. At first I was manic, because this undermined both my faith in the rational explanation and my geosapience Gaia-hatred model, but then it hit me. What if the conspiracy was fake?"

More wind, battering the windows. The bartender stands still. "Elaborate?"

"The whole thing was faked. Someone wanted there to be a conspiracy. They organized a conspiracy. They made an event that would cause a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theorists went wild. Because it's too perfect, isn't it? The original hits all the checkboxes for tinfoil hat fodder, but now that it's happened again it's clearly too organized for some government research project or Gray encounter or primordial Earthen vengeance. Someone set up a false mystery for people to flip out over. And once it gets solved they have to remake that false mystery all over again. And now another set of hikers disappears."

The bartender rests his hand on his belt, clenching. "And what would that accomplish?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out. Possibly a misdirection campaign? If you make a fake conspiracy you could easily distract from actual government research projects. Or they want to instill a sense of fear in the public, that there is a threat to the populace only they can handle, as an excuse to instate more government control on us. Or—"

The shot is silent through the snow outside. The drink ripples as Yulian falls limp to the floor, his head cracked from hitting the counter on the way down. The aftersmoke lingers as the bartender tucks the pistol back into its hidden trouser-pocket holster, then — taking a moment to swipe away the suffocating haze of burnt propellant — grabs his walkie-talkie.

"Alpha to Command."

« Roger Alpha, what is your status? »

"They know."

« Understood. Switching conspiracy generation engines to new configuration. »

Phillip at the Center for Circumglobal Conspiracy Creation and Control takes a third gulp from his coffee mug and sets it down to confront the glistering array of green and red lights in front of him. He flicks the switch two rows up — "Kholat Syakhl is misanthropic" — and scoots his swivel chair down several columns to another switch grid — "Nixon and Kissinger are the same person", "JFK's head did that multiple times", "9/11 was caused by an amateur aeromancer".

Poring over the options, he reaches for a switch in the lower rows, "horses aren't real".

The light flicks green. The mysteries of the world rearrange.

First published in YONQ Issue 4