Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A "Smooth" Bob Tucker

My friend, Wilson “Bob” Tucker, died in 2007 (see posting September 19, 2007) and I didn’t have a photograph to go with it. I was sure that I must have some, but I would have taken them back in the old days when you needed film for a camera and then had to pay for someone to develop it for you, which would explain why I didn’t have many. Not to mention that taking photographs inside without benefit of flash was sometimes dicey.
As I have gone through my files, I have stumbled over many things that were once lost but that are now found. These included some pictures taken at a UFO convention in Chicago in the 1980s, a long time ago.

Tucker, always popular, was hosting the costume contest, which now, I guess would be called Cosplay. While there were some elaborate costumes, most were inexpensive, though often clever but nowhere near as ornate as those today.

Wilson "Bob" Tucker and his bottle of Beam's Choice.
Anyway, Tucker was standing at the podium with his nearly ever present bottle of Beam’s Choice bourbon. Con committees always had a big supply of it, and Tucker always passed it around in a ritual that lasted for decades. Everyone, over 21 of course, would take a swig and hold his or her hand in the air, and when everyone had finished, all yelled, “Smooth,” as they swung their hands down in a bit of an arc.

You’d see same thing at panel discussions with the bottle being passed frequently from one to the next along the panel and then back again. Sometimes the panelists didn’t make it through the discussion without becoming a little tipsy… but there was always a “Smooth.”

In later years a new wrinkle was added when someone suggested that we use the American Sign Language symbol for love as part of the ritual. Tucker, of course approved, and the plan was adopted.

Bob Tucker in the plaid shirt (obviously) teaching a group of fans the ritual of "Smooth."
So here are my pictures, such as they are (taken inside the hotel without flash and in what would been less than a megapixel), of Tucker at the podium, and Tucker instructing some newcomers in the proper protocol of the “Smooth.” Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are memorable.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Thing - A Multiple Review

The Thing – movie (2012)

The Thing – movie (1982)
The Thing – From Another World – movie (1951)

Who Goes There? – novella (1938)

The thing about the latest The Thing movie (yeah, I did that on purpose) is that the vast majority of those reviewing the film gave great credit to John Carpenter’s “original” seemingly unaware that Carpenter based his film on a 1938 novella by John Campbell, Jr. While there was a movie made in 1951 called The Thing From Another World, and based on Campbell’s story, it was not as true to the tale as those later versions.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Of the three films, I actually prefer the 1951 version in all its black and white glory. It was a fine little film that was one of the first of the science fiction monster films (sure there were those in the 1930s and 40s, but those were more horror than science fiction, for those who are aware of such distinctions). Here, in an artic outpost, a group of scientists discover a flying saucer not long after it crashed. They call the Air Force and from that point, we have the scientists clashing with the Air Force officers who want to do what is best for the military but not necessarily science. And, of course is the monster, described as an intellectual carrot and played by James “Gunsmoke” Arness. That probably had more to do with his size than anything else.

The movie didn’t have much in the way of special effects but had some great dialogue. At one point, as they prepare to face the creature, one of the soldiers said, “I just had a thought. What if it can read minds?” To which his companion replies, “It’s going to be real mad when it gets to me.”

So, they’re facing a humanoid creature with a vegetable base that grows its off spring in a plot of dirt irrigated with blood. In the end they are able to destroy the creature. The world is safe, but in something that is more fiction than fact, the reporter with them is allowed to tell the whole tale and warns, “Watch the sky.”

As I say, this is a neat little movie filled with wit, humor, charm and fast-paced action. To enjoy it fully you have to pay attention or you’ll miss some of the subtlety, and certainly some of the classic lines.

Given all that, and its acknowledgement of the source material, meaning Campbell’s story, it doesn’t follow the text very closely. For a movie that is more faithful to that original source, you have to look at John Carpenter’s 1982 film (which reveals its title in the same way that the 1951 version did… the words, The Thing, burning through the background to reveal themselves.) Some of the tension of Campbell’s story is translated to the screen. The men, and this film has an all-male cast, quickly learn that all are not who they seem to be because of the alien’s ability to shape shift, or more accurately, absorb the cells of the humans, turning them into some kind of monster in the way that a virus will attack an organism. Since these new, transformed people are perfect mimics, real humans can’t tell the real humans from the duplicates created by the alien, or rather, the alien cells.

For that matter, the dogs can’t tell the dog thing from the real dogs. But it is during the attempt by the thing to change from a dog to a human that the men discover their danger. And the audience discovers the quality of the special effects.

They are fantastic. They are also sickening (if you happen to see the full film rather than one trimmed for television, and you saw this back in 1982 rather than today). Unlike the old days when the transformation of werewolves, vampires and demons was done with dissolves, special lighting and abundant make-up, in this version the thing bursts out of the dog shape, the flesh bodily peeling back. Later, in a somewhat “light-hearted” moment there is an autopsy complete with blood drenched insides, a human thing’s chest caving in to cut off the doctor’s hands, and so on and so on, until the whole point of the film is lost in the blood. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you need to, or that we care to watch it…

But all that almost masks the subtle points in the film which is that the danger to all of us comes from inside us. There is some very nice character development, and as I say, the story does follow Campbell’s original more closely than the earlier version.

Now, nearly thirty years later comes the “prequel”. This movie opens at the Norwegian Antarctic outpost, where the 1982 movie begins. Let me explain… In the 1982 version, a dog, being chased by a Norwegian helicopter enters the American camp. The helicopter crashes, killing the occupants, and then the Americans fly over to the Norwegian camp to find out what had happened. There they find the burned out camp and the bodies of more of the Norwegians, not to mention the bizarre charred remains that have human elements, but also something else.

In this new version, we are invited into the camp before it caught fire and the people killed themselves. We see them finding the alien craft and estimating that it had crashed some 100,000 years earlier, which, I suppose was based on information derived from the ice and snow in which it was found.

Unfortunately, the Norwegians are incapable of exploiting this find themselves, and they apparently can find no one in Norway who is able to either. Instead they must hire an American babe anthropologist so that we don’t have to put up with a bunch of foreigners who have made the greatest find in a thousand years. There really is no reason to bring her into the investigation, other than to provide xenophobia American audiences with someone who is American.

Of course those Norwegians aren’t quite as sharp as she is, so she must tell them what is happening and deducing a way of identifying the alien “people” from the real people. In Carpenter’s movie they devised a creepy but tension filled blood test. Here they deduce that the thing can’t replicate nonorganic material so they check the fillings in people’s teeth. Overlooking the fact that in Carpenter’s version, this nonorganic problem didn’t seem to exist, what would happen if you found someone with perfect teeth with nary a filling anywhere? You’d think he or she was a thing, but in reality (if I can use that term in this movie context) that person would be human.

In Carpenter’s movie, it seems that all those in the Norwegian outpost are killed or chase the dog thing in a helicopter, but in this prequel, a couple of them seem to survive. They’re going to drive over to the Russian outpost some fifty miles away, which, of course, would suggest the American compound is farther. But then the heroine realizes that the guy she’s with doesn’t have on his earring and when she mentions it, he touches the wrong ear. She toasts him with a military style flamethrower, though no one seems to wonder why a Norwegian scientific outpost would have a flamethrower with an endless supply of the jellied gasoline to make it work… but never mind.

The problem is that the dog thing takes off running and the Norwegians take off in a helicopter chasing it, tying it very nicely to the beginning of Carpenter’s film. I wondered if the dog could really run more than fifty miles… even an alien dog might tire. I wondered if a single rifle bullet (if the guy could hit the dog thing) would bring it down and didn’t they really have to burn it to be sure?
So, at the end of the movie, we’re now at the beginning of Carpenter’s movie and gone full circle, or rather looped back on ourselves. Frankly, of the three, I prefer the 1951 version which didn’t rely so much on gross special effects and substituted witty dialogue and intelligent characters for the overwhelming special effects. But, when you get right down to it, the written story was much more horrifying because it relied on your mind to frighten you and not pictures developed by someone else. As is often the case, the original source material is the best of all the examples… just try reading the story late at night, alone, with the wind howling outside.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Unidentified Factor - Part I

(Blogger’s Note: I was rereading Asimov’s The Early Asimov, in which he reprinted many of his earliest stories. It is interesting to see the evolution of his style. Read one of the first of those stories and then one of the last for comparison. Asimov said that he didn’t change those early stories, other than a spelling correction and the like. I thought I would reprint some of my earliest stories in a similar fashion, which is not to say that I believe I’m in the same league as Asimov. Hell, I’m not even on the same planet… however, as I started to retype the story into the computer (because it was originally written on a typewriter which dates it somewhat but it was written in the mid-1970s which dates me somewhat) I just couldn’t do it. The story needed work, so I rewrote it as well. For example, in the original story, the scene with the two pilots was two paragraphs. I expanded it because I wanted to show what was happening rather than telling what had happened. Anyway, here is the new and improved story… and note the use of our technology in it. None of that was in the original, otherwise this tale would have been an incredible piece of prediction.)


The Unidentified Factor


The ringing telephone woke him. He swore at another middle of the night calls that were becoming all too routine. At least twice a week and lately it seemed to be three or four times, Captain Philip Wilson was called at home. That was the disadvantage or being on twenty-four hour, seven days a week, call, not to mention being the unit commander.

Wilson rolled over, reached for the land line which was more secure than his cell, and knocked the receiver off the hook. He groped for it, found it, and said, “Yeah?”

“This is Sergeant Burroughs, sir. I have an ‘operational immediate’. It came in about five minutes ago.”

Wilson sat up and reached for the light. “Can you give me any of the details?”

Burroughs hesitated and then said, “Not really sir. It involves a couple of our pilots.”

“All right.” Wilson looked at the alarm clock and said, “I should be there inside of fifteen minutes. Twenty at the most. Let’s say about zero four three zero.”

Having said all that he cared to say, Wilson hung up. For a moment he sat staring at the phone, and then scrubbed his face with the heels of his hands. Again he glanced at the clock as if he couldn’t believe the time and then forced himself to stand up.

Quickly he shaved, brushed his teeth and combed his hair. Since he could see no reason for others to stay in bed if he had to get awake, he called his executive officer, Lieutenant Frank Lanning.

When the phone was answered, he said, “Frank. We have an ‘operational immediate.’ I’ll meet you at the base.” He didn’t bother to identify himself. Lanning would know who it was.

There was a brief reply which might have been a mumbled oath. Wilson hung up without waiting for more. He walked around the bed, and pulled a uniform from the closet. He looked at the wings reflecting the dim bedroom light and wondered why he had given up his flying assignment. Had he stayed in the cockpit he wouldn’t be awake at four in the morning because some citizen or a couple of pilots had seen a light in the night sky.

At the base, he went directly to his office. Burroughs was waiting with both the report and the coffee. As Wilson entered, Burroughs said, “Good morning, sir.”

Wilson took the report, then looked at the coffee and frowned. “Can you scare up a Coke instead? I think I need something cold.” With that, Wilson, reading the first page, walked into his office.

The report was actually based on incidents from three locations, funneled to his office through a larger intelligence network at the next higher headquarters. It seemed that a dozen people, including two Air Force pilots and an amateur astronomer had seen a bright point of light cross the sky sometime between 0215 and 0251.

Wilson rocked back in his chair and swore. “Why can’t these yo-yos see the damned lights at a decent hour?”

He flipped to the next page and saw that the sightings had been made in three cities located some 517 miles apart and on a straight line. The estimated altitude was something like 185 miles and the speed just over 17,000 miles an hour which made it sound like it was something in orbit, though Wilson didn’t believe the altitude estimate and if that was off, then the speed was off, unless they had some kind of radar confirmation.

Burroughs entered with the Coke. Wilson looked up and then, waving the report like a banner, asked, “Did you read this?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you find anything special in it? Was one of those pilots a general or something?”

“Not that I know of.” Burroughs set the Coke bottles down and found himself a chair. That was a breach of military protocol but it was four in the morning and sometimes at that hour there was no good reason for protocol.

“As near as I can figure,” said Burroughs, “someone was impressed with the straight line and the multitude of witnesses, given the hour and the altitude.”

“So what?” Wilson picked up the Coke. “We can’t do anything about it until morning.” He stopped talking when the outer door opened. He yelled, “That you Frank?”

“Right.” Lanning stepped into the office, his black hair uncombed and his blue eyes blood shot. “What’s the great catastrophe this time?”

“You’ll love this.” Wilson slid a few pages across to Lanning and into the pool of light formed by the desk lamp. He looked at Lanning and said, “Flip on the overhead.”

Lanning read the first few lines, looked up and asked, “What are we supposed to do about this?”

“Don’t stop now or you’ll miss the best part. The altitude.”

“Oh, hell,” said Lanning. He tossed the pages at the desk but missed. They fluttered to the floor.

Wilson took a long pull at his Coke and then set the bottle on the desk. “I supposed they’ll want us on the scene as the sun comes up.”

“We could have started just as easily started at seven,” said Lanning. He flopped into the overstuffed chair set in one corner of the office, put one leg up on the arm and leaned back.

“Okay,” said Wilson. “Burroughs, make the arrangements for us to travel. We’ll want to talk to the pilots first. Frank, let’s you and me go catch a shower and shave. Meet you here,” Wilson looked at his watch, “at, say, zero six three zero.”

“Got it,” said Lanning.

Wilson finished his Coke and gave the bottle to Burroughs to recycle. He stood up and headed to the door.


The pilots, sitting in a small conference room, were a little annoyed at still being at the base. They had wanted to go home when they finished the paperwork after the flight but had been told to wait until relieved. One of them, a tall, thin man, was reading the newspaper and the other; a short, slender brunette held her tablet on her lap and was playing a game. She didn’t bother to look up when Wilson entered.

The pilot with the newspaper saw that he outranked everyone in the room, and went back to the newspaper. The other didn’t even bother to look up.

Wilson said, “Good morning. I have a few questions.”

The pilot with the newspaper folded it, and set it on the table. He didn’t bother to introduce himself. He just stared at Wilson.

“We filled out your form. We’ve been up all night and we’d really just rather go on home. I’m sorry that I mentioned anything.” He pushed a document toward Wilson.

Wilson ignored it and said, “It would be helpful, Major, if you would tell us what you saw.”

Without preamble, he said, “We were flying a loose formation, picking up a little nighttime to stay current. Emily spotted the object, the light, whatever, that looked like a very bright star. It appeared to be moving in relation to the background stars so we thought it would be fun to give chase. We started a climb, trying to get above the light but we couldn’t seem to close on it. It just stayed ahead of us and disappeared about two minutes after we began the chase.”

Wilson turned his attention to Emily, who was a captain and whose last name was Ryder, according to her nametag. He asked, “What drew your attention to it?”

She turned off her tablet and said, “I just looked and there was the bright light. Looked like a star but it brighter than anything I have ever seen, including Venus. I called Major Johnson’s attention to it and he spotted it right away.”

Since both pilots had seen it, it was clear that the object had not been a reflection on the canopy of one of the fighters. It was in sight too long to be a meteor and it seemed to react to the fighters. Both said they were impressed with the speed because the object was so far above them.

“We checked with flight following,” said Johnson, “but they had nothing on radar. No one seemed to have radar contact. We couldn’t find anyone else who saw it.”

“Why’d you report this?” asked Wilson.

Johnson took a deep breath. “Had it been up to me, we wouldn’t have said anything, but we’d queried the radar facility and they had monitored the call in the command post. The intell officer was waiting for us, per regulations. At that point we had no choice.”

They talked to the pilots for another thirty minutes, but learned nothing that would help them identify the object. Neither of them had any idea about what it might have been. With nothing to go on, with only a single bright light in the sky, devoid of detail, there was nothing more to be done.

Wilson gathered up the reports and stood up. He said, “Thanks for the help. Sorry to have held you up.”

Johnson smiled quickly and said, “Not your fault. It was mine. I shouldn’t have asked for the radar confirmation.

As they left, Wilson said, “I think we need to talk to that astronomer.”

“Amateur astronomer,” said Lanning.

“Amateur,” agreed Wilson. Then he said, “You go get us a car from the motor pool, and I’ll see what the Intel officer has to say.”


Lanning picked up Wilson thirty minutes later, outside of the Intel office. As he got into the car, he said, “Well, that was a colossal waste of time. He didn’t even talk to the pilots. He just gave the pilots the forms to fill out and then set them off to wait for us.”

Lanning said, “I just don’t understand why someone is so on fire to get an answer on this. It’s not like these things haven’t been seen before.”

“What bugs me,” said Wilson, “is why they would slap an operational immediate on this. No one seems to know why or who.” He took off his hat and rubbed his head.

“I thought our headquarters did that.”

“Nope. I checked. They received it that way.” Wilson paused and looked out the car window. They were passing a number of brick buildings that had somehow missed looking institutional. Maybe it was because they were single story and had bright white trim.

“If I didn’t know better,” Wilson continued, “I’d think this was being driven by Air Force Headquarters. There is something here that has then concerned.”

Lanning slowed for a red light but it changed and he accelerated. “That doesn’t explain what is so important about this case. It’s just a light in the sky for crying out loud. We got a hundred… hell, a thousand like it.”

Wilson shrugged. “Beats me.”


The astronomer was quick to tell them all the things that the light was not. He had a much better time reference, and he had a precise length of his sighting. None of the other witnessed added much to the case file. They had seen a light. It had crossed the sky rapidly. It looked like a satellite only bigger. No one had taken a picture, though one had tried using her smart phone. There was nothing more for them to do but return to their home station.

Back in the office, Wilson decided to review the notes, reports and other documents. He spread the papers over his desk and then turned on the computer to begin a spreadsheet. As he entered the data, he turned to Lanning who was sitting in the overstuffed chair, sipping water and staring into space. He said, “Here’s something interesting.”


“One of the times is off by ninety minutes.”

Lanning stood and walked over to look at the monitor screen. “Probably means that someone can’t tell time.”

Wilson rocked back, his eyes on the screen and took a sip of his Coke. “At the second location?”

“Okay, then the thing took ninety minutes to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’.”

Wilson shook his head. “I don’t think you’ve got the point. We have three sightings in one location. Two fit nicely but the third is ninety minutes off. Allowing for differences in clocks and time estimates by the witnesses, they should all be very close.”

“Then you’re right. Someone can’t tell time.”

Wilson picked up the hard copy and handed it to Lanning. “You read this and then tell me that.”

For the first time since they had returned, Wilson visibly relaxed. He stretched, and stared at the Coke bottle. He suddenly had an idea and sat up. “Hey, Burroughs. Come in here for a minute.”

Burroughs stuck his head in the door and said, “Yes, sir?”

“What’s the name of the astronomer that helps us out now and then?”

“Hang on a minute and I’ll get the number for you.”

As Burroughs left, Lanning turned away from the computer screen. “Unless you have something, I can’t see any significance in these, even with your ninety minute difference.”

“Something has gotten the head shed’s panties in a bunch. I don’t know what it could be.”

Lanning was no longer interested. He said, “Unless you can impress me quickly, I’m going home. It’s late and I’m tired.

He moved to the door, stepped back to let Burroughs through. “I’ll see you guys in the morning,” he said, “unless, of course, something happens.”

Burroughs looked at his tablet and said, “Name you are looking for is Dawson. Ralph Dawson. He’s at the local university.”

“Why don’t you give him a call?”

“Now, sir? It’s ten thirty.”

Wilson looked at his watch to confirm the time and tapped his pencil against the empty Coke bottle. “Yeah, now. Give him a call.”


Ralph Dawson, who looked as if he had been sent over from central casting in the role of the eccentric college professor in an old, torn sweater and long hair that rarely saw a comb, walked in, escorted by a security policeman. He asked, “What is so important that you couldn’t wait until a decent hour to call?”

Wilson walked toward the door and then said to the security policeman, “Thank you. I’ll take over here.” He then turned to Dawson and said, “Thank you for coming in so late, Doctor. Would you like a beverage? Coke? Coffee? Water?”

“No, thank you. Well, yes, come to think of it, a bottle of water would be welcome.”

Once Dawson had his water, Wilson said, “Doctor, I hope that I didn’t get you out here on a wild goose chase. I’d like you to take a quick look at some of the data we’ve assembled and give us your impression.”

Dawson took the tablet from Burroughs, saw the security markings on it and asked, “Am I supposed to see this?”

“Nothing there that would impact national security. You might say that that is our non-security security tablet.”

Dawson took it and began to read. He frowned once or twice and then pulled out his smart phone, making a few calculations on it.

Wilson almost said something about that, but realized any data that Dawson had copied would probably be in the news in the next few days. He got up and leaving Burroughs to watch Dawson, he left his office and went to the coffee pot. It was empty. He then walked down the hall to the water cooler. He got a drink of the water tepid water and then stepped outside the building. Overhead he could see thousands of stars. The massive lights of the parking lot had been turned out after ten to conserve energy, as were many of the other lights on the base. Wilson was always amazed by the sight. So many stars.

He walked back into the building and into the office. Dawson had finished looking at the reports and was now working on his smart phone. He saw Wilson and said, “There is a rather interesting relationship here.”

Wilson didn’t want to contaminate Dawson’s theories with his own. Instead he said, “I hadn’t noticed anything too significant.”

“I’m not sure significant is the right word. The big clue is the time difference in some of these sightings. The ninety minutes is interesting.”

Then, falling into his professor mode, Dawson removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. Without looked at Wilson, he said, “We have, or course, calculated the orbits for our satellites and those we plan to launch in the next couple of years. Most are based on an altitude of above a hundred fifty miles, with the speed dictated by the altitude. These data seem to fit in with what you have given me here. Adding it together, I would say that what was seen was something in orbit.”

“Doctor, are you familiar with the statement that the true test of a man’s intelligence is how much he agrees with you?”


“I mention this only because you have confirmed what I had thought. I noticed that ninety minute discrepancy as well.”

“If it is in orbit, then its path is predictable. You should be able to figure out where it will reappear.”

Wilson began to understand why someone had been pushing for investigation. Someone else had figured it out as well, though Wilson didn’t understand why they had ordered him out. It was something that should have been investigated at a much higher level.

“For my predictions to be accurate, I would like additional information.”

“But you can do it now?”

“We really don’t have enough information for any prediction to be accurate. If someone reports something tonight, then we’ll have something. I can make some educated guesses.”

Wilson walked to the window and looked up at all the stars burning holes in the sky. He said, “Tomorrow I’ll see if any of our recent reports fit into the pattern. I’ll call in a few days.” He turned slowly and looked at Dawson.

Dawson seemed to realize what was happening, what was being said. “You mean this doesn’t belong to us?”

“Not to my knowledge. In fact, I don’t know who it belongs to. Anyone who launched it would probably be celebrating their achievement.”

“What are you saying? That this comes from, what? Outer space? That we’re dealing with space aliens here?”

Wilson grinned and said, “Well, that seems to be one possibility.”

“You simply don’t have enough data to make such a suggestion. There is nothing I’ve seen to suggest that this isn’t something we’ve launched.”

Wilson was quiet for a moment and then said, “Before I called you, I took a look at the orbits of our satellites, and when I say our, I’m talking about everything that has been launched from this planet. There is nothing in orbit that would have put it over that location at that time and have been visible to either the pilots or those on the ground.”

Dawson studied his notes for a moment and then repeated. “You don’t have enough data to make such a leap. The most logical conclusion is that this is something that was just recently launched into orbit.”

“I have computer access to a wide range of data bases,” said Wilson. “I have run a preliminary scan and found nothing. Tomorrow I’ll put my geeks on it and see if there are any reports that fit into a pattern that would have brought a satellite into view at the times and locations that we have.”

“Then why did you ask me here so late?”

Wilson laughed. “Because I needed some confirmation of the theory and you came to the same conclusion that I did. Now I can look a little deeper.

Dawson forced himself up, out of the chair, groaning with age. “Then I’ll be going.”

“How much data did you download to your phone?”

Unconsciously Dawson looked at his phone. “If you want me to go further with this, I’ll need the data.”

Wilson hesitated. “It’s all classified fairly high.”

“But I already know about it. I can only make accurate predictions if I have accurate information.”

Still Wilson hesitated. Dawson was right, of course. Wilson took a deep breath and said, “I have to warn you, Doctor, that the material is classified. If the news feeds get this, we’ll both be hung out to dry.”

“I know how to keep my mouth shut, Captain. I have signed the appropriate documents when I took over the consulting duties. You have nothing to worry about from me.”

The Unidentified Factor - Part II

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.”

The Unidentified Factor - Part III

“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.”

“I think its alien,” said Woods.

Dawson looked as if he was about to say something, but Lanning cut him off. He said, “I agree. Someone put that up there and it wasn’t us. Wasn’t anybody on this planet.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Wilson.

“Hell, it is artificial and we didn’t do it. It follows a flight path that seems to cover the whole planet, as if mapping, and it wasn’t seen until just a few days ago.”

“That doesn’t make it alien.”

Lanning tapped the tablet. “That does. We’ve never built anything like that.”

“As far as you know,” said Wilson.

“As far as I know,” agreed Lanning.

Wilson turned to Dawson and said, “I’d like to keep this quiet. We don’t have enough to go on. Just some sightings and a picture that isn’t all that great.”

“We can gather more data,” said Dawson. “We have the technology to bring this right down in our laps now.”

“But we need to make sure that we have our facts right,” said Wilson. He was thinking that the problem had moved into a higher pay grade. This was not something that he should decide.

Dawson ignored the warning and said, “We’ll keep working. Well try to clean up the image and see what we have on film, not to mention the video stream.”

Wilson nodded and said, “Good.” There wasn’t much else that Wilson could do that night. He needed to wait for the data to be analyzed, for the photographs, video and the film to be scrutinized, and for it all to be plotted and cataloged and fed into the computers. Then they would have something tangible and something that could be forwarded up through the chain of command.


The next morning Wilson arrived at the office having avoided the morning news all together. He walked into a darkened building where no one had made any coffee or brought in any donuts, but then, no one else had arrived yet. Wilson enjoyed the quiet time, using it to work through the accumulated emails, the new regulations, and the minutia of a military assignment. Sometimes nothing made a lot of sense but he had the time to try to figure it out.

Lanning burst through the door ten minutes later, slid to a stop and looked at Wilson. He said, “You look remarkably calm.”

“And why shouldn’t I?”

Lanning turned on the television, stood back as the picture glowed to brightness and said, “Well, crap.” He flipped through a couple of channels until he spotted Dawson’s face and stopped.


“Turn it up.”

Dawson was smiling. He said, “We got the best evidence last night and worked to analyze it. We provided the orbital data to colleagues in other countries for verification, and when they reported that the object was seen in the proper place at the proper time, and they were able to get better pictures of it.”

Dawson faded from the screen and one of the photographs appeared.

“Dawson couldn’t wait for us to leave so that he could take the credit himself. I’ll bet that he never mentions us.”

Wilson laughed. “I hope he doesn’t. We’re going to be in it deeply if he does.”

“This is our discovery. If it is alien, the guys who found it are going into the history books.

“But we didn’t discover it. I don’t know who did. Maybe that woman we talked to at her front door. Maybe those pilots we interviewed did the other day. I just know that we didn’t find it.”

“No, we just proved it was there…”

“Actually, Dawson did that,” said Wilson.

“We had a role in it,” said Lanning, calming down.

“That we did,” said Wilson. “There will be enough credit for everyone.”

Lanning dropped into the closest chair. He took a deep breath and said, “I don’t like this. Headquarters isn’t going to like this. They’re going to be unhappy with us.”

“Not your problem. It’s mine, but if Dawson is right… If we’re right and this is alien, that none of that will matter.”

Before they got too deep into the discussion, the telephone rang and Wilson answered it rather nonchalantly, “This is Wilson.”

He then said, “Yes, sir, I am familiar with telephone protocol, but it is so early in the morning.”

Then for nearly five minutes he said nothing and looked at a corner of the room, away from Lanning who was attempting to get his attention. He tried, once or twice, to say something but never got more than a word or two out. Finally he said, “Yes, sir,” and hung up.

He turned to Lanning and said in a somewhat subdued voice, “You were right. They’re not happy with us higher up the chain of command.”

“What are they going to do to us?”

“First,” said Wilson quietly, “they want a written report about how the unbelievable breach of military secrecy could have happened and an estimate of the repercussions of it. I am to hand carry this document up the chain, advising our commander of it, but not allowing him to read it to keep from further compromising the secret.”

Lanning nodded but said nothing.

“You, young lieutenant, may assist in the preparation of said document, but you are not to be given access to any data to which you are not already privy. In other words, you are now out of the loop. This all falls squarely on me.”

Wilson looked at the computer screen in front of him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the chewing out he’d received, if it could be classified as that. It had seemed to be more in the form of instructions on how to get all the data corralled, saved, and then made to disappear up the chain of command. Wilson hadn’t actually been in any real trouble, but wondered if that was to come down on him later.

Lanning was about to ask a question when the telephone rang again. Wilson held up a hand like a traffic cop to stop the question and answer the phone, this time in the proper military fashion. He nodded once but said nothing else. The color drained from his face and his jaw dropped, but he didn’t speak.

When he hung up, he sat for several seconds and then looked at Lanning who was afraid to speak.

“It’s down. Fifty miles from here. Message just came through.”


The flashing red and blue lights, nearly invisible from the highway unless you were looking for them, pinpointed the crash site.  In the distance they could see a small fire burning.

As they turned off the road, a Highway Patrol officer stepped out and held up a hand to stop them.

When they pulled up, the officer leaned down to the open window and said, “Road’s closed. There has been an aircraft accident.”

Wilson, sitting there in uniform, in an Air Force staff car said, “Yes, we know. We’ve been called forward.”

“Sorry, sir, but my instructions are to let no one through without the proper clearance.”

Wilson took a deep breath, and said, “I have the clearance. I have all the clearances I need.”

“Yes, sir, I’m sure you do. But my orders were explicit. I’m to allow no one to pass this point.”

“Well, why don’t you get on your radio and get in touch with someone who can authorize our entrance.”

The officer didn’t look happy with that suggestion. He didn’t like his authority being challenged by some guy in a uniform that didn’t match his. But he was also aware that some of those needed at the accident site would be traveling down the road and would probably be in uniform and probably driving an Air Force staff car.

He grinned briefly and then said, “I’ll get on the radio.”

“Thank you.”

A desert camouflaged Humvee appeared over a ridge, headed down and stopped near the patrol car. An officer in a combat camouflage uniform climbed out, looked at the Highway Patrol officer and then toward Wilson and Lanning in the staff car.

Instead of walking over to the Highway Patrol car, he diverted to the military vehicle. He leaned down, looking in the window and said, “Can I help you Captain?”

Wilson saw the man was a lieutenant colonel and said, “Yes, sir. I was ordered out here.”

“By whom?”


“You have orders?”

Wilson handed a paper to the officer who looked it over and then handed it back. He pulled his smart phone from his pocket, typed quickly with his thumbs, and then waited for a few seconds. He watched the screen in his hand and finally said, “Okay, you’re authorized but you’re not going to make it in that staff car. Leave it here and I’ll give you a ride.”

Wilson and Lanning climbed into the two back seats in the Humvee as the colonel sat down in the front passenger seat. They started back up the ridge, along a track that was badly rutted and filled with holes and basketball-sized rocks. They topped the ridge and down in a shallow valley, there were a dozen other military vehicles, about two dozen soldiers and something that wasn’t readily recognizable, at least at that distance.

Lanning stepped out of the Humvee and walked around the front. He stood staring, trying to make something out of the wreckage. He said, quietly, almost to himself, “What in the hell is that?”

There was a gouge in the ground that was about forty yards long, narrow at the point closest to them, widening out, until it looked as if something had exploded creating a shallow crater. Metallic debris twinkled in the sun and small bits blew in the hot breeze.

“What the hell?” asked Wilson, standing by the Humvee.

The colonel said, “I’m not sure what we have. It was made of metal, it has been machined, and there were little evidence of wires or circuit boards. Nothing that was easily recognizable.”

“Alien,” said Lanning. “Something from another world.”

The colonel shook his head and said, “Nothing all that radical here.”

“Damn,” said Lanning. “You talked about not recognizing it. You said it was manufactured. You said there wasn’t any wiring or circuit boards.”

“No, I said that there was little of that stuff.”

“What do you think, Colonel?” asked Wilson.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I never seen anything we launched crash like this. Oh, stuff has fallen out of the sky, but we knew that it would and most of it burned up. Nothing like this at all.”

Lanning turned to Wilson and said, “It’s from another planet. That’s the only explanation.”

There were men moving around, taking photographs. Others were standing off to the side, as if waiting for orders to move in. Overhead there were two helicopters, circling at five or ten thousand feet.

“Alien,” said Lanning again.

One of the NCOs ran up, carrying a bit of wreckage. She was wearing rubber gloves and holding the debris away from her as if it might be dangerous.

The colonel took it. He pointed to the burn marks on one side and one of the ragged edges that looked sharp enough to cut. He turned it over and the all stared at the lettering there.


United State Air Force


“Oh my God,” said Lanning. “It’s ours. They didn’t tell us. It’s ours.”

“That’s why we were given the assignment,” said Wilson. “They wanted to know how much the civilians knew. How badly compromised it had been.”

“I can’t believe it’s ours,” said Lanning, disappointed. “I really thought it was alien.”