By Stirling Edgewood
Bear the Ember, Chapter 12: Wild Goose Space
“What did you do to our star?” she demanded.
He was hoping the previous day’s mishap had taken some of the steam out of her boiler, but unfortunately, it seemed to only stoke her to bolder flames.
“Uh, I observed it?” he offered weakly. “Or, at least, I tried.”
“Well,” she barked, “some amateur astronomer in some godforsaken backwater reported our star went missing, and now I’m getting calls from bureaucrats, newspapers, politicians, and, most importantly, our grant-writing agency! We are supposed to be the foremost experts here! This is our star! Now what happened to it?”
“It disappeared,” he replied flatly.
“I know that!” she shot back. “But why? How did it happen?”
He shrugged helplessly. “How could I know?”
“Some kook on the news claims it got swallowed by a black hole! He says it’s heading our way and is going to eat us next!”
“Seems plausible,” he observed calmly.
“A planet-eating black hole is absolutely not heading our way!” she shot back sharply. “Now the media hounds at interplanetary sensing node 56 are coming out with speculation that it’s being blocked by a cloud of interstellar gas. I thought you said there were no clouds?” she asked accusingly.
“No, please, not clouds again,” he begged.
“No, it’s not clouds,” she informed him. “It can’t be clouds. Node 65 is just trying to steal our spotlight with their bogus cloud theory.”
“I thought you said node 56?” he asked meekly.
“It doesn’t matter which node! I’m sure node 65 is cooking up some idiot story too. We need something better to keep them out of the press. Now, what made our star disappear?” she demanded again.
“Uh…” he paused.
“Something bigger, more spectacular than clouds!” she said longingly. “But not too spectacular, we don’t want to cause a panic.”
“How about… aliens? First contact?” he offered sheepishly.
“Ugh!” she shouted dejectedly, “definitely not aliens! No one will ever believe that! Besides, that always causes a panic in the movies. Now come up with something more believable. “
“Well…” he paused.
“What is it?” she barked out.
“Uh, if, um, maybe I could have more telescope time, I, uh, might be able to collect more data, which can be used to generate a hypothesis–“
“There is no time for that!”
“–backed by observations, rather than simple speculation. None of the other nodes have that.” She considered for a moment, then grudgingly let out “Fine. Every telescope on the planet is probably pointed in that direction now anyway. Make your observations, but make them fast. I need something within the hour. We’ll show those node 42 busybodies.”