Prose Header

Cold Light

by E. S. Strout

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


“Oh shit!” Sara yelled. “Whatever you just did, Paula, take it back.”

A sudden eye blink. “I didn’t do anything.”

The entity retracted to its original position, leaving a through and through frost-rimmed defect.

“You scared it, boss,” Sara said, eyes wide with wonder.


“I’m serious. It reacted when you yelled at it.”

A dismissive head shake. “Get more samples, please.”

Sara inserted a glass probe tip and withdrew a cubic millimeter sample. The microanalyzer spewed out results seconds later.

Paula stared in dismay. “You sure you got everything?”

“A nanomicron couldn’t have escaped.”

A repeat sample was identical. “Ionized metal and Formica hydrocarbons,” Sara said. “Impossible. Matter was disrupted.”

“It didn’t disassemble your hand,” Paula said.

An involuntary shiver. “Just froze it.” Paula twisted a stray curl around an index finger. “It’s selective. Didn’t affect glass or my paper airplane. It’s something more...”


Wednesday, May 11, 0723 hours:

Beep of Paula’s cell phone. “Sergeant Williamson, Dr. Lynch. Base Security. I have U.S. Air Force Major David P. Snyder here. Top D.O.D. clearance. Fingerprint and DNA scan confirm.”

“Show him in, Sergeant.”

Paula’s office held a desk, two chairs, a bookcase filled with textbooks and tech manuals, G-6 PowerMac, coffee maker and a framed classic Blade Runner movie poster on one wall. A framed photo of her father in his Lieutenant’s uniform rested one corner of the desk, a Navy SEAL trident emblem adorning his chest. She pushed a stack of paperwork to one of the chairs and stood. “We’ve been expecting you.”

“David Snyder,” the tall, angular Air Force officer introduced himself.

Paula offered a tentative handshake. “Pentagon Security, I assume.”

“Correct, Professor. Some questions regarding your recent unauthorized Internet inquiries, Dr. Lynch,” he said.

He gave Sara a calculating glance. “And you are, Miss?”

“Sara Joanne Iverson. I’m the Prof’s associate. Ph.D candidate. Subatomic physics.” She stood close, touched his collar insignia. “Gold oak leaf. Nice uniform, Major. You’re kinda cute. Getcha some coffee?”

“No, thanks.”

“You married?”

A blush. Mop of his sandy crewcut with a regulation blue handkerchief. “Where is it, ladies?”

Paula led the way to the gravity laboratory. “Yours, I assume.”

The problem hovered over the perforated laboratory bench with a taunting gray flicker. Major Snyder approached warily, gave his chin a speculative rub. “Never saw it up close before. Only as a blip on a radar screen,” he admitted.

Major Snyder handed Dr. Lynch a single-spaced Xerox copy. “This is our problem.”

Sara bounced on tiptoes to peer over the six-foot two-inch Major’s shoulders. “Why is most of it blacked out?”


A skeptical single eyelid squint. “You’re really a CIA spook, right?”

Paula donned rimless reading glasses and read. “Groom Lake? That’s Area 51. Ultra-classified research facility. My clearance doesn’t go this high, Major. Sara’s, either.”


A sarcastic giggle from Sara. “Area 51? You guys made Roswell a major tourist attraction. Get your photo with a real space alien. Five bucks. What kind of kickbacks do you get?”

Major Snyder ignored her. He unzipped his attache case, opened a manila folder. “These photos are authentic. Alien craft and its pilot. Sorry about resolution. Best they had in 1947.”

“They’re fake.” Sara whispered.

“Hush,” Paula admonished. “Go on, Major?”

“They recovered its weapons system. You have it now.”

“So how come your alien pals took off without it?” Sara asked with a derisive snicker.

He gave a nervous tug at his uniform collar. “Nobody knows. The military stayed on alert for a year after July 1947. Speculation was the pilot must have been lost, light-years off course.”

“So why did it come here?” Sara asked.

“Wish I knew. It’s been parked in a geosynchronous orbit one hundred fifty thousand miles over the Florida Keys since 1947.”

“It dropped in on us at about 2100 hours EDT.” Paula said.

“The time zones match close enough,” Major Snyder confirmed. “At 1823 hours PDT the Groom Lake tracking center reported it missing. First time it’s moved in almost sixty-five years.”

“Our test affected its gravitational field,” Paula said. “And something else. Attraction...”.

“This is where it gets weird,” the Major said.

“Not as weird as you and your CIA buddies” Sara accused.

“My office,” Paula said with an anxious glance at their odd visitor.


“Explain, please?” Paula said.

“Please bear with me,” Major Snyder pleaded. “Does the name Alfred Schumacher ring any bells?”

“Came to the U.S. after Germany’s surrender in 1945,” Paula said. “An expert in rocket technology, colleague of Werner Von Braun.”

Sara gaped. “How can you know that?”

“WWII history course my freshman year at Stanford.”

“He was assigned to the Groom Lake research center in June 1947,” the Major said.

A nod from Paula. “In time for Roswell.”

“Professor Schumacher had a unique gift. He could communicate with the alien device, move it within and over the Area 51 complex.”

“Thought control weapon,” Paula said with an intuitive nod.

“Thought control, my ass,” Sara snorted. “You Pentagon guys watch too much SciFi Channel.”

“Really? What would you call it?” Major Snyder prompted.

“Oh my God,” she gasped, eyes wide, her mouth a startled O. “Paula made it move.”


“I just yelled at it,” Dr. Lynch claimed.

“She scared it,” Sara insisted.

“I got its attention,” Paula said.

Sara reached around, snagged the Xerox page. “We saw these numbers when your computer threatened us. What do they mean?”

The Major grabbed the page back. “R-GL 1041. Project COLD LIGHT. It’s a classified Air Force investigative report. I only read it on my way from Washington.”

“It reacted when I was upset.”

“Three times,” Sara affirmed. “Froze my fingers, then chewed that hole in the lab bench.”

The Pentagon Security man consulted several pages of hardcopy. “Professor Schumacher could make it ionize metal with cold.”

“Oh wow,” Sara gasped. “It could zap other UFO’s.”

A bemused breath from Paula. “Professer Schumacher was in tune with it.”

Sudden dimming of the office lights and the anomaly hovered expectantly over her desk.

“Yikes! She did it again.” Sara yelped.

“It’s on my frequency now,” Paula said.

A whistle of awe from Major Snyder. He held up a page. “Here it is. ‘It’s attuned to me’. Quote Alfred Schumacher, 8 July 1947.”

“Wow,” Sara breathed, eyes wide with wonder. “And nobody else could...?”

Another page flipped. “Thirty others besides Schumacher tried. Scientists with I.Q’.s of one hundred eighty plus. One could change its degree of brightness. Bunch of frostbite cases. And now you...”

A puzzled grin from Paula. “So you’re saying I’m Mozart to their Salieri?”

She blinked. The aberration disappeared in a frosty cloud of vapor, leaving a roughly cubic defect in the office ceiling. “Better move away from the desk, Sara, Major.”

An instant later an identical defect appeared next to the first. The alien weapon took its position over Paula’s desk, emitting its frigid vapor.

“Holy moley,” Sara howled. “Major?”

“You told it to...?”

“I visualized it orbiting the planet and returning.”

“Schumacher never moved it that far,” Major Snyder whispered as he scrawled longhand notes in the margins of the Xerox page.

“His dying effort put it in orbit,” Paula said. “It had no homing capability, so it was stranded. It just parked itself and waited.”

“For you? So you say. I can’t believe...”

“It has faster than light capability,” Paula revealed.

Sara tugged at a loose strand of ash blond bangs. “How... ?”

“It told me. A mental heads-up display.”

“Is it alive?” the Major asked.

“No. It’s just a tool. It cannot initiate action on its own. It reacts to my cognitive input.”

“How does it function?” the Major asked. “What fuel?”

“Self-sustaining reaction. Hydrogen ions, neutrinos, gamma rays. The science is eons ahead of us.”

Major Snyder pocketed his pen, folded the Xerox sheet and stuffed it in a breast pocket. “The Pentagon will need you at Groom Lake. I’ll arrange for a flight...”

There was a blink of light. The alien weapon hovered a foot from Snyder’s face. “I don’t think so,” Paula said.

The Major shielded his eyes from the brilliance with a hand. “This is obstruction of a military investigation, Professor Lynch.”

“It’s very protective,” Paula warned. “ Any threat against me...”

“Yeah,” Sara agreed. “You wouldn’t want your spook bosses to find you turned into a Popsicle.”

“No I wouldn’t,” Major Snyder agreed with an involuntary shiver. He unfolded the Xerox sheet and placed it in the COLD LIGHT folder. “The Pentagon will want an answer.”

“You drew a blank, Major,” Paula told him. “Your computer hit was a random event. Ask for funding for a continued search.”

“I understand.” The door eased shut behind him.

“Well, that was exciting,” Sara declared. “Want some more coffee?”

A vigorous head shake. “Please no, Sara. My kidneys are floating.”

Sara slurped from a fresh cup. “So what else do we know about your new accomplice?”

“It showed me precise details of its orbit around our planet. Better resolution than our most sophisticated satellites can attain.”

“What will you do?” Sara asked.

“I’ll think of something.”

“Can I help?”


Saturday, May 21. 0230 hours. Fox Eleven Breaking news:

The Pakistani government reports the total destruction of an Al-Qaeda training camp in the Kashmir region. Sixty terrorists were found frozen to death. A freak Arctic storm is suspected to be the cause. Updates to follow...

Copyright © 2006 by E. S. Strout

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