Chapter five of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Howard Fobell couldn’t be entirely sure he wasn’t under arrest: The room was stark and furnished only with a plain table and two chairs, there was a tape recorder on the table, and the overhead lighting was bright and flickering. It also didn’t help that behind him paced Admiral Thomas and sitting across from him was General Rauchbach—two names someone like Howard Fobell had only ever heard before in hushed whispers accompanied with deer-in-the-headlights stares. Howard fidgeted in his seat and watched the General watching the Admiral. Both men were cordial enough, but Dr. Fobell still had the willies.
“So you don’t believe the Star Event was made up of crafts piloted by intelligent creatures, but were themselves intelligent balls of light?” the General asked for the fifth time. It was the circular questioning that made Howard most feel arrested, like they were trying to get him to slip up and admit to whatever crime it was they thought he’d committed.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Dr. Fobell admitted.
He pushed up his thick, round glasses and rubbed his rusty beard with a pudgy hand. He was not grossly overweight, but he knew he could stand to lose a few pounds. Still, he couldn’t focus enough on his appearance to comb his haystack of twirled, dark red hair in the morning, so focusing enough to exercise probably wasn’t going to happen either. If any doctor fit the description of “too involved in his work to care,” it was Dr. Fobell.
“As I said,” he continued evenly. “Based on our observations and photographs, there is nothing to indicate a structure to the lights. Given my own theories of terrestrial UFOs, this leads me to conclude that light may be all there is to the Star Event.”
“But intelligent light,” Admiral Thomas pointed out, his voice crackling off the walls in a stunted echo. “Conscious light. Light that gets up in the morning, brushes its teeth, and gets itself a bowl of cereal. Light that is alive and cognizant, correct?”
“In a manner of speaking, though I think its form of intelli—”
“That’s what I don’t get,” the Admiral cut in. “I don’t get how light can think.”
The Admiral was a severe man and Howard had spent the first few minutes of the interview trying to avoid his piercing stare, before he graciously moved out of Howard’s line of sight. The Admiral was a man not used to being spoken back to, and his basic demeanor only helped make the General seem more diplomatic, although Howard couldn’t honestly remember ever feeling comfortable in interviews with the military, no matter how diplomatic they were.
And this interview was entirely different. No office with a big desk and fancy woodwork designed to intimidate guests with an air of composure and elegance. No—this was old fashioned intimidation, with buzzing lights and a distinct lack of shadows. It was an interview that said there was nowhere to hide and everything to lose.
Howard sighed heavily and asked what he thought was an obvious question: “Admiral Thomas, have you read my papers on the subject?”
He heard the Admiral stop pacing behind him and could tell by the General’s eyes that he was moving over to the table. The Admiral leaned in close to Howard’s right ear and whispered with malicious amusement, “I was hoping you could give us the Cliff’s Notes version, Dr. Fobell.”
The General snickered and winked at Howard as if they were both sharing a common joke.
“We don’t read more than we have to,” General Rauchbach explained. “And honestly, your work is a bit outside our purview.”
“All we need to know, for now, is one thing,” the Admiral added, scooting around and perching on the table so he could look at Howard—could shoot the arrows of his eyes into Howard’s moon-like face. “We need to know if the Star Event is dangerous. Frankly, I don’t really care if a ball of light has a brain or if My Favorite Martian is real—I just want to know what I need to do about it. You see intelligence. We see the unknown. We see a threat. Do you see?”
“Yes,” Howard replied, lowering his eyes. “And I’m afraid, gentlemen, that I can’t really say.”
He looked up and held each man’s gaze for a second, trying his best not to look nervous, then continued. “I am certain that whatever they were, they wanted to be seen and they wanted us to follow them. Logically, then, I would say they are not coming here and thus would not appear to be any threat.”
“But what happens if we follow them?” General Rauchbach asked kindly, an ulterior motive brimming just below the surface. “Is this an interstellar ambush?”
Howard sat silent, his mouth slightly open, and shook his head slowly.
His lack of words spoke volumes to the two men.