With Dawson gone and Burroughs sent home of the night, Wilson stretched out on the couch. He knew, without seeing any additional data that the object had been in orbit. If it was in orbit, then he would get additional reports and with that data he could back track, looking for older sightings and work out a number of things. He might be able to figure out when it was launched and who might have launched it. This had to be the reason that someone wanted additional information so quickly. It was nothing that the Air Force had done and if it had been one of the other services or the space agency, they would know. The pressure from the top suggested that no one there knew what it was.
At seven-thirty the next morning, Burroughs woke him. He had already checked with the message center and there had yet to be any sightings overnight. That, of course, didn’t mean that something wouldn’t come in and Wilson was on his second cup of coffee when they were notified of a classified message. Wilson told Burroughs not to worry, he would go get it.
When he returned, he found Lanning sitting in the outer office, sipping from a bottle of water and staring out the window. He didn’t look as if he had slept well and didn’t look very alert. He handed him the hard copy of the overnight report.
“We’ve got one. Matches the others, and is less than one hundred miles away. I want to investigate.”
“You look like hell,” said Lanning.
“Let’s get a car and swing by my apartment. I’ll get a quick shower and shave and a clean uniform.” He turned to Burroughs. “While we’re gone, why don’t you see if you can find any similar sightings that predate these.”
“Yes, sir,” said Burroughs.
They arrived in Westchester just before noon. The witness lived in a cottage that looked as if it belonged to another age. They walked through the white picket fence, beyond the flower beds that nearly covered the yard and to the front door. They rang the doorbell, expecting someone who looked like an elf or a dwarf. Instead they found a young woman with dark hair. She didn’t seem pleased to see two military officers standing on her porch.
“We understand you saw something strange last night,” said Wilson after the introductions.
“Can you tell me exactly what it was?”
She pointed over his shoulder and said, “Over there. Just over the trees.”
“How far away?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It was just a point of light, moving across the sky. A bright, white light. It was moving at high speed.”
Lanning had out his GPS. He took down the directions but said nothing.
“Did you get a time?”
“Just after midnight. I had just turned off the television. I went to lock the door and looked up for a moment and there it was. Just flying across the sky. I watched it until it disappeared. Not very long. Half a minute or so.”
Lanning asked, “Just how high above the trees?”
She pointed again, at an angle of about forty degrees.
Wilson asked a couple of other questions about color, maneuvers, and speed, but he already had the information he needed and Lanning had recorded everything on his smart phone, along with pictures.
Before they left, Wilson asked, “Do you wear glasses?”
“No. My eyesight is perfect.”
As they turned to go, she said, “What did I see?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out.”
“Was it one of those flying saucers?”
Wilson grinned and said, “No, I don’t think so. It was probably just a satellite.”
“Then how come you guys came all the way out here so fast?”
Wilson grinned. “To be sure that we had all the facts. You asked for an opinion and I gave you one. We have more work to do.”
They left then and sat in the car for a couple of minutes. Wilson wasn’t sure what to make of the latest information. He wasn’t all sure that it would add anything to what they already knew and wondered if the witness hadn’t seen a light plane with its landing lights on. The information could skew the results and throw them off. He’d have to think about it and see how the data fit into the pattern.
Lanning used his cell to talk to Burroughs. He asked, “You get anything?”
Burroughs, whose voice came through as so clear it sounded as if he was sitting in the backseat said, “I found one that might fit. It’s just over a week old.”
“Can you text the data?”
“Sure, but I could send you a jpeg instead.”
Lanning knew that they shouldn’t be trading pictures of what was classified information, but it would make sure that nothing was lost in the translation.
A moment later the email had arrived. Lanning said, “Got it. Thanks.”
He opened the file and looked at the data. He then held up his smart phone and said to Wilson, “This is what Burroughs got.”
Wilson looked at it and then entered the data onto his tablet. He waited for a moment and it was clear that both sightings, the one they had gathered and the one Burroughs had found, fit the pattern.
“I’m going to call Dawson and see if he’s found anything.”
Dawson said, “I haven’t found anything.”
Wilson said, “I’ve got two, but one might be a flyer.”
“Let me get my pencil,” said Dawson.
Wilson laughed. “Pencil? Let’s move into the new century here, Doctor.”
“Sometimes you just need a pencil,” said Dawson. “It’s easier to copy down the data than to try to enter into a spreadsheet as you feed it to me. I’ll translate it onto the spreadsheet later.”
“Pencil it is,” said Wilson.
After Wilson fed him the information, Dawson said, “I’m not sure the old one fits in.”
“I thought the latest didn’t.”
“I’ll get it figured out,” said Dawson. “Just remember, the more data points we have, the better we’re going to be. When I get something worked out, I’ll give you a shout.”
Wilson ended the call, and although it wasn’t all that late in the afternoon, he said to Lanning, “You know, I think that’s about it for the day. Let’s head home and knock off early tonight.”
“You get no argument from me.”
The next morning, there were no new reports of the unidentified orbiting object. For a moment Wilson was disappointed but he then forgot about it. They had received other reports, of low flying UFOs, but he thought nothing of them. Just more civilians misidentifying balloons or aircraft navigation lights flashing. The morning dragged with Burroughs out for several hours and Lanning sitting in his office, attempting to work but who was just cruising the net.
When the telephone rang in the middle of the afternoon, Wilson was the first to get to it. “Hello?” he said.
Dawson said, “Good Afternoon, Captain. Sorry about the delay getting back to you but I had to teach today. I’ve now had some time to run the data. I got some fairly interesting results and I think you’ll find them exciting.”
Dawson fell silence for a moment, as if to get his breath. While Wilson waited, the theories exploded in his mind. Maybe it was alien spacecraft… or a new astronomical phenomenon or just that everyone was deluded. Finally, impatiently, he said, “Don’t keep me waiting. What do did you find?
Dawson remained silent for a few more seconds and then said, “I have a possible orbit for the object and without better data, it’s the best I can do. In two days, just prior to midnight, we should be able to see it fly over here.
“You mean the orbit will shift this far south?”
“Well, not exactly shift this far south. It won’t fly directly overhead but it will be visible to the north. Ninety minutes after that, it should be visible again, slightly closer to us here.”
“Will we be able to use the university’s observatory?”
Dawson laughed. “I thought you’d ask that. Everything is arranged. We should be able to get some decent pictures too.”
Dawson was waiting for them, Wilson, Lanning and Burroughs, when they arrived late in the evening. Dawson and a graduate student, Sarah Woods, had recalculated the orbit times and then set up the cameras. They were escorted to the top of the physics building where the equipment had been set up. It was high above the street lights and while not completely blacked out, they had a better view of the night sky than those at street level.
Dawson stood to one side as Woods explained the plans to take a series of pictures using different cameras, including one with film. They had other graduate students at other locations who would also make observations and photographs so that they could deduce to a great accuracy the altitude and speed of the object.
“So you see,” said Woods, “this will be the first time that science has been in a position to observe these phenomena with the equipment available to record the event. Seems funny that you’ve never done this.”
“Well,” said Wilson, “we’ve never had one of these objects in a predictable orbit. We have tried a few experiments, but we’ve failed to produce much in the way of results.”
Dawson, in his role as a professor, tried to light his pipe. The wind blew out the first match and he tried with a second. When that failed he gave up and said, “About five minutes now.”
Wilson shoved his hands in his pockets and said, “It’s cold. You wouldn’t believe that it’s still summer.”
Burroughs, reacting to the excitement, said, “This is it. After tonight, we’ll know if these things are spaceships or not.”
“We already know that,” said Dawson. “What you wish to know is if they are alien spaceships, but that we might not be able to discern that. We’ll just know that something artificial is in orbit.”
Wilson chuckled. “The sergeant is somewhat enthusiastic with his theories.”
Dawson pointed at the skyline, using the stem of his pipe. “It should appear about 30 degrees above those buildings and trees. We’ll have about a minute, minute and a half to observe.”
He turned to Woods, “Sarah, let’s start the movie camera now and start the stop motion sequence as well. Make sure that the data feeds are all in place, and alert those down in the lab.”
Wilson saw that she was annoyed by the instructions but figured it was because she already knew what to do and didn’t need to be reminded. It was almost as if Dawson was playing to an audience, though that audience was small and basically uninterested in his leadership.
They stood in silence for a few moments, studying the sky. Near the horizon, just over the buildings, there seemed to be a slight haze. The stars there shimmered and faded in and out, but higher the sky was clear and bright.
Burroughs started to say something, stopped, and then pointed. “There. There it is,” he said.
Lanning took a step forward and said, “I didn’t think we’d see anything. I thought it was all just a big boondoggle.”
The object seemed to rise from the haze, and then climbed higher into the sky. It was just a bright, white light that had a bluish tint to it. It was the brightest thing in the sky at the moment and there was no doubt that it was something artificial. It was something that hadn’t been there in the past because if it had been, they all would have seen it many times.
Before it reached the horizon again, it winked out like a light that had been turned off. Seconds after it was gone, Woods reappeared and asked, “Did you see it? We got a great photographic record not to mention some sensor readings.”
Wilson stood staring at the point where the light went out and wondered if he had just screwed up. He had needed the assistance of the experts but in consulting with them, he had opened the door for a security breach. Maybe this was the one time that he should not have consulted Dawson and when they arrived on the scene, he hadn’t thought in terms of security but in terms of verification. He wanted evidence that something had flown over. Now there were too many people who were in on the secret, such as it was.
With those thoughts in mind, he looked at Dawson and asked, “Artificial or natural?”
“I couldn’t say for sure. Probably artificial because it’s new and uncataloged.
“I think it’s artificial,” said Woods.
“What else can you tell me?”
“Preliminary data suggest an altitude of about 167 miles when it passed over here. We’ll have better information tomorrow.”
Another graduate student, one with a thick beard and long hair but fine looking clothes appeared with a tablet. He held it out and said, “This is the best we can do at the moment. Not a lot of detail, but something.”
Wilson studied it, thinking it was little more than a blob of light on a dark background, but they realized there were stars scattered in the background and that the blob had a shape.
“It’s not symmetrical,” said Wilson.
“No, it’s not. That surprised us. Not a lot of detail here but I think we can clean up the image. That is a real object and it is not natural.”
“Then what is it?”
Dawson, who had his pipe out again, but still hadn’t managed to light it, said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I would say that if you can prove that it is not made by us or anyone else, then you have but one conclusion.”