Chapter Two   Leave a comment

II.

Invoices, final demands and other insults lined Dr. Jill Jackson’s inbox thicker than mold on abandoned leftovers.  “What is it with these people?” she muttered, deleting each email as she shook her head.  “It’s not like they don’t have any money of their own.   Goddamn corporate thieves…I’m sick of them raping my bank account!”  One final tap and all traces of her debt vanished, at least from her laptop.  Raking her fingers through her thick red hair, she sighed.  “Well, that’s over with.”

Alone in her dark office, surrounded by seven display screens of varying sizes, Dr. Jackson earned her living as Dean of Astrophysics at Farmington University, Trap Rock, North Dakota.  Blessed with perfect darkness and flat terrain, her observatory sat in a large, lonely field with nothing to obscure her reflector’s vision.   Other computers linked to several space telescopes, and automatically tracked one specific location in the universe that offered intriguing clues.  A space junkie, her kicks came from unending research and dogged observation of the deepest, farthest mysteries.

Sinking back in her chair, Dr. Jackson contemplated the arrangement of her life.  Though the recipient of many accolades for her ingenious calculations that accurately predicted obscure celestial phenomena, she had yet to be officially recognized for her work.  Prize money for Nobels and other fancy trinkets came in handy, especially in her financially distressed condition.  Otherwise, why bother?  Self-esteem stroking didn’t put dollars in the bank, nor did praise.

Personal life prospects equalled her finances.  Divorced twice, widowed once and presently alone, she didn’t care if a goat paid her a compliment.  She’d welcome advances from the janitor, only he happened to be a well-toned ex-jock who was dating an administrator.

Not like there was time for romance.  Her nights allowed no variance for entertainments; they required hawklike vigilance in a certain region of the sky known as Whistler’s Revenge, so-called because of several quasars emitting shrill noises recorded by radio telescopes often sent conflicting data.

“Say, what’s up?” asked Helen Philps, her graduate student intern.

“What’s up,” replied Dr. Jackson.

Philps snickered. “Oh, I can see this is going to be a very long night.”

“Aren’t they all?  So, what do you have for me?”

“Nothing yet.  Still tracking that anomaly over in WR 22.  Can’t say it’s a quasar, though.”

“What evidence have you uncovered?” said Dr. Jackson.

“It stopped pulsing.  Altogether.  Not that it pulsed much in the first place, which made me wonder a few things.  See, at first I noticed a strange pull on WR 50, and naturally I suspected a planet or two.  Did the math and it backed me up.  According to my calculations, there should be one decent-sized planet, comparable to Earth in size.   I tracked it for two month, and the pattern was consistent.  Then suddenly, it disappeared.”

“What, the pattern or the planet?”

“Yes, to both.”

“Wait, you’re telling me that the planet just up and went?”

“Or it was a mistake.”

“Helen, I’ve been checking your work.  I agreed with you the probable presence of a planet accounting for the wobble of WR 50.  Let’s take a look at your calculations to see what, if anything, happened.”  Sliding over to her computer to comparing her data with visuals in time lapse, Dr. Jackson examined her results.

“Anything?” asked Phelps.

Dr. Jackson’s intent stare focused on one particular blip.  “Here…here it is…but what is it?”

“I’m not imagining it, am I?” said Phelps.

Shaking her head, Dr. Jackson said, “It’s as if whatever it was just…vanished.”  Magnifying the image, she struggled to explain the phenomena that unfolded on the display.  “One minute there, and poof! The mother star’s rotation is as consistent as ever.  No wobble.”

“Then what’s causing this?  Unless the planet fell victim to catastrophe?”

“Please.  This isn’t Star Wars.  There’s got to be an explanation.”

“Oh, there always is.  And as you say, it’s going to be a long night.  Let’s get busy.”

Groaning, Phelps said, “You’re going to make me sit here staring at that blip. It’s the past, Dr. Jackson.  That happened millions of years ago.  My dissertation project’s nearly finished.  Tell you what.  It’s all recorded anyway, I’ll just go back and look at it later.”

“You’ll sit and watch it now,” said Dr. Jackson, “because I have a hunch that whatever we’re looking at isn’t real.”

 

 

Posted September 8, 2014 by seleneymoon

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