Photo-Illustration: “EyeAm” © 2005 by Andrew G. McCann
Sam talked while looking through the instrument. “Nothing to get excited about,” he said. “Just a mix of individual stars. That red one looks to be a lot closer than the others… but that’s because I’m assuming it’s a dwarf.” He pulled back from the eyepiece of the huge telescope and turned to look at Frank.
“That’s what I thought, and you’re right about the dwarf.” Frank said. “But come to my desk and let’s look at the monitor image: same field, same magnification. All we’re going to do is turn the point of view.”
Frank clamped the remote-feed camera body onto the telescope. They both moved away from the device. The mirror at the base was almost eight feet across and all by itself weighed 12 tons. It was very dark inside the observatory. And very quiet. Even with the curved overhead doors open, it seemed very quiet in the observatory. The observatory was located on a hill, and down below was a growing city and a thick ribbon of highway that curved along under their perch.
Looking up towards the ceiling, or out towards the walls, was a waste of time. The walls and ceiling were corrugated steel and looked silver in daylight, but now it was night. Now the whole building looked black. The walls could have been miles away, except for the slight echoes that whispered the sound of four shoes as the men worked their way along the steel walkways. There were four lights burning inside the domed observatory. Red lights placed strategically so the astronomers didn’t walk into nests of wires or walk off the edge where the stairs began.
The four lights were dim; 20 watts. And red; Persian red. Because red light didn’t affect the eye the same way white light affects the eye. So the only white light in the room was coming from the 32″ monitor on the desk. And as the camera was focused on stars, the screen was almost as dark as the night sky.
Frank sat at his desk and pulled an extra chair closer so Sam could sit. Frank pointed at the dots. “Same field.” He said.
“Taken today?” Sam asked.
“Just an hour ago.”
“Thought you had an Earth-shattering collision to announce.”
“Might be Earth-shattering… but only in another sense of the word.” Frank said. He started typing. It only took ten keystrokes to tell the computer how to manipulate the data. Frank started to work the information. The dots on the screen kept their relative positions but started to change where they were. They started to swirl like a square-dance promenade. “On second thought, maybe I should let you do this.” Frank said. “It’d be better if you went at this clean.”
“Clean?” Sam said. “Want me to wash my hands?”
“I mean without me pre-disposing you to finding what I think I’ve found.” He pointed at the keyboard. “Look, just use these arrow keys.”
Sam Hackly tapped the little key. As he tapped, the image on the screen continued to rotate, the stars swirled slowly around a fixed point. Tapping the right pointed arrow was forcing the sky to rotate in a counter-clockwise motion.
“Go on.” Frank said. “Keep going.”
Sam touched the key again. The stars clocked around about five degrees with every push. “If this is one of your games… or if there’s something loud and bright going to jump up on the screen and scare me… I’m not going to be too happy. I drove up here because you’re always willing to loan me your damn hedge trimmers and because your wife makes good strawberry daiquiris, that’s all. What is it I’m supposed to see?” Suddenly, Sam grew silent. He reached for the key again but couldn’t find it at first, as he didn’t want to take his eyes from the screen. He touched the key only two more times. One time, and moments later another. “I’ll be damned.” He said. “When did you find this?”
“I was doing a calibration. Unassigned co-ordinates. Being turned on its side didn’t bother me. I always could read upside down or sideways. But just so we’re clear; what is it you see?”
“Plain as day…” Sam said. “I see the words, ‘I AM.'”
“Written with stars,” Frank said.
“Remarkable. Have you told anyone?”
“So far, just you.”
“Well let’s get on the phone. Let’s call ‘Good Morning America’ or Regis Philbin… we could make some money with this. We could both hug Kelly Rippa, if we play our cards right.”
“She’s not my type, too skinny. And that’s not my first choice on phone calls. I did consider calling Skywatch. They even have an 800 number in the front for reporting discoveries.”
“I don’t think a magazine has the budget for rewarding this kind of initiative,” Sam said.
“It wasn’t exactly initiative,” Frank said. “I was just testing the new drive; wanted to see how much noise it made. It was pure chance that I looked through the lens.”
“You have the co-ordinates now? You have it written down somewhere?”
“Don’t need them written. Haven’t written them yet. Every time that big eye points anywhere, a record is made of the exact time and the exact position.” Frank picked up a notebook he’d positioned earlier and underneath there were three lines of back-lit numbers. Dials like odometers built into the top of the desk. Sam immediately caught the meaning but not necessarily any of the numbers. As Frank put the magazine back, all Sam was absolutely sure of was that he’d seen the number 1 or 7 and the word declination.
“I’d think you’d want that carefully transcribed,” Sam said.
“Sure. Ordinarily. But that’s the thing… I’m not sure I’m going to… publish this.”
“You’re crazy. If nothing else, your name will be in about ten-thousand books. Don’t you want to be known as the guy who proved God exists?” Sam asked.
Frank looked around and then looked down at his hands. “No. I don’t, actually,” he said. “Because I’m not sure this proves anything. It’s like that face they found on Mars twenty years ago. It turns out it was just a hill with slants carved out of it. If you look at it from any other angle and under any other lighting, it’s just a pile of dirt. It was only because we’re pre-programmed to try and recognize faces, that the technician thought he saw something.”
“But he did see something,” Sam said. “And how do you know what’s important… putting this together with that… putting the Martian Temple alongside God’s calling card… and believe me… people will put this together with that. There’ll be side-by-side pictures in National Enquirer, if nowhere else. Always people have to put things in context. Suppose you found a bunch of shells on the beach that said, “I AM”. You’d conclude a person left those… and in that case I’d most likely agree with you. But these are STARS. Pretty hot to handle. Pretty hard to position. As for turning them… all the great discoveries have been cropped and framed. That picture of the Horse Head Nebula you carry around in your head… that was rotated and color-enhanced and cleaned up and made glossy and placed in your memory. Like the Pillars’ of Hercules, also turned for your viewing pleasure. Like comets always going from right to left on the page.”
“I know what you mean…” Frank said. “I know what you’re saying… But I’m convinced this gathering is just coincidence. That’s why it’s turned sideways… and why it isn’t more prominent… and why it isn’t visible to the naked eye. That’s a pretty tight window we’re looking through… if I don’t announce this, and give the position; it could be a hundred years before that pattern gets discovered.”
“You’re forgetting me. I’m not going to hide something like this.”
Frank looked at his friend. “I’m not going to hide it either. I’m going to say I thought I saw something, but then, looking again, I realized it was just a random gathering.”
“Leaving me to look silly.”
“That depends on how much force you give to your testimony.”
“I’m going to give it all the play it deserves. I’m going to announce God exists and that He’s revealed himself,” Sam said. He sounded like a preacher.
“Revealed himself IF you speak English… and IF you have a big telescope… IF you can read sideways… and IF you believe in a supreme being who uses bad penmanship.”
Sam didn’t say anything. He was looking up. Trying to picture what part of the sky the telescope was pointing at.
“None of the lines are straight,” Frank said. “None of the letters line up. If you put a ruler on the screen you’ll see what I mean.”
“That’s hardly the point,” Sam said.
“I think that’s entirely the point,” Frank said. “You’d expect God to have good penmanship. Besides… if the hundred billion other brightly burning stars haven’t led everyone to God… why should these few do it?”
“Because these say something.”
“Said something,” Frank answered. He started typing, preparing to move the earthbound eye. “Long as you’re here, want to look at M-57?”
Sam glanced at the telescope to see if it was changing position. He realized a few more keystrokes would turn the eye in a new direction, erasing the numbers he needed. He had to stop Frank from erasing God. He noticed a big screwdriver sitting on Frank’s desk. The screwdriver resting there, all through with its work on the new positioning equipment.
Frank’s typing slowed down, so that each keystroke seemed to take an hour.
Sam stood, the screwdriver suddenly in his hand.
With new co-ordinates entered into the computer and the old position about to be lost forever, Frank’s index finger moved towards the key marked “Enter”.
Before his hand fell on the plastic key, Sam lashed out.
A quick intention fulfilled.
In the silent chamber, the dark and ancient words “God no!” bounced off the cold metal walls. *
About the Author: Thomas Lee Joseph Smith has been published more than 100 times. His story “White Kangaroo” was nominated by an editor’s group as one of the best fantasy stories of ’03. Tom is a member of WUTA, the premier writers group located in St. Louis, Missouri. Tom has three children and a beautiful wife.
(c) 2005 Thomas Lee Joseph Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Andrew G. McCann is a Class M artist, which is stellar nonetheless.
(c) 2005 Andrew G. McCann email@example.com