The anomaly showed up on our charts in the early evening, but as midnight approached all our meters went crazy and it was clear something very, very unusual was happening. What made it all the more remarkable was the fact that it seemed to be centring on this part of the city.
I called an inter-disciplinary conference at about 10pm, because there were side-effects outside my specialist competence as a cosmologist, and three of us were selected to work through the night on the problem. Bear in mind that this wasn’t just a question of chalking up equations on the blackboard to see if they made sense, which is our usual modus operandi, but something that was happening in the here and now, right in our own backyard, so to speak.
Naturally, we were in touch with the national astronomical centre as well as international geophysical control down at the South Pole, but since they were getting most of their data from us, all we really heard from them was confirmation of the existence of an anomaly.
One of my colleagues even suggested we contact the Commission for the Exploration of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, but no one paid attention to this, although perhaps we should have, the way things turned out. Naturally the paraphysical laboratory wanted to investigate all sorts of unrational behaviour in the light of their own speciality, but we let them get on with it. Frankly, anything you can’t reproduce in a laboratory lies outside my field of competence, and that includes ESP, politics and religion.
The main thing that was engaging our attention was a light source in the eastern quadrant of the sky which seemed to have no physical basis. You could see it from the roof of the main university complex, and our high-frequency sensors showed it spanning the entire electro-magnetic spectrum, with the exception of harmful radiation like X and gamma rays, but it appeared to be invisible to radar. Very curious indeed.
At about five minutes to midnight the roof called down again, so hysterical we decided to go up and have a look, and it really was marvellous, like an aurora, only much more vivid. Back in the lab, our instruments showed the plasma processes in the earth’s magnetosphere to be of an order never before recorded, and a bombardment of the upper atmosphere by protons and electrons more than I’ve ever encountered with previous fluctuations in the solar wind.
I might add that we had recorded no exceptional sunspot activity immediately prior to the events here recorded.
Most notable was the fact that after moving steadily eastwards for most of the evening, the anomalous epicentre had now become stationary just a few hundred metres from the porter’s lodge of our main building. Visual observation confirmed that this appeared to coincide with the extremely intense emission which looked to the naked eye like an aircraft searchlight, beamed down to earth from a position above the rather thin alto-cirrus clouds. Repeated radar search of the area continued to show no trace.
We contacted the military strategic defence unit at one of the main allied bases with whom we’d had some business in the past, but the night duty officer would only confirm that they had observed anomalous electro-magnetic phenomena over the capital. He refused to say whether there were any special exercises in train at the time, and when we rang back again later we got a computer-generated message, saying no calls could be accepted at this time, and inviting us to have a nice day.
We did better with the prime minister’s office, where the sergeant at arms took a message and then called back saying that the PM had asked to be kept informed via the usual channels.
Although I am scarcely qualified for field work, my two colleagues agreed that we ought to do some investigation on the ground, so we wrapped up well, threw a few portable instruments, such as a Geiger counter, into the back of the university four-wheel drive, and went off to see what was going on.
At the last minute, I grabbed a piece of moon rock from its place of honour on my specimens shelf and slipped it into my pocket.
The light seemed to be focussed on some kind of a car park on the other side of the main thoroughfare, and specifically on a small temporary structure which looked like a ticket collector’s hut, judging by the notice on the side. The single window was ablaze with light, as if someone was using an arc-welder or similar device inside. I also noticed that the temperature within the cone of light from the sky was distinctly mild: a colleague who had brought a thermometer told me later it was about 25 degrees Celsius.
Inside the shed, an extraordinary scene was taking place. There was a young adolescent woman, with a baby, who was naturally the centre of interest. What astonished me, on this astonishing occasion, was that she and her baby appeared to be the origin of the intense light we’d observed through the window. My Geiger counter showed no reaction, which was also astonishing since one would have expected to have found at least some residual background radiation from granite chips in the car park gravel and so on.
There was an old man, evidently the father, on his knees before the woman and child, and a rag-tag and bobtail of others – worshippers, I suppose I should call them, though there were no religious icons of any kind. In fact, even the young woman seemed focussed on the child. You might think this would be natural in the mother of what appeared to be a new-born baby, but there was something more than a mother’s normal devotion in her eyes. And the child itself looked around with a startling intelligence, as if it is was more aware of its surroundings than is normal for a child barely an hour old.
In front of the child there were various bits and pieces, placed there almost like gifts, which is what I realised they were, when a man in the dark-blue of a security guard placed a grubby bar of chocolate on the little pile.
I felt the scrap of moon rock in my pocket and knelt to add it to the gifts. Somehow, I didn’t want to get to my feet again so I stayed there, kneeling, suddenly aware of all the gaps in my cosmic view of the world, wondering if there was any way I could find out how to pray.