It was one of those sunny Arkansas days in late Spring. Not too warm for the squirrels to scamper and perfect weather for the cardinals and the bob whites to socialize. Dew still clung to grass blades and the breeze lifted kites just enough to keep them airborne.
Above their heads, the people of Siloam Springs looked up to see an occasional sky diver from the local airport. And on this particular morning, they saw something else in the sky. A large white thing, almost as big as the daytime moon, though everyone knew it was not the moon.
The craters were not there. The lunar face absent, surely it was not the moon.
Sleepy Arkansans were raised from their beds by their mates. “Come look at the thing in the sky,” they said. A touch of fear in the voice.
Some people called the local news station. “What’s that in the sky?” they asked. “Above Siloam Springs.”
A few journalists in nearby Fayetteville and Springdale stepped outside buildings and looked up to see the white thing in the sky that was not the moon, pondered a bit, then dismissed it as some visual anomaly. It is the moon they concluded and went about their regular day re-writing stories from the Associated Press and looking over bits of pointless news that told about the huge success of Miss Millies Pie Shop in West Fork. Local high school seniors who created a collage made from recycled plastic bottles.
An editor at the Siloam Springs Herald-Ledger stepped out that morning, looked up and grew concerned. “That’s not the moon,” he said. His name was Eric.
He called the local observatory for more information. “What’s the thing in the sky, above Siloam Springs? It looks like the moon, but it’s not.”
The voice on the other end of the line was female. She sounded hesitant, but after some prompting and a couple of threats about witholding information from the press, she relented. “Can you keep this from the newspaper? This needs to be off the record for now.”
Eric agreed, but turned on his digital recorder anyway. He did not want this to get away from him. On the average day he was an editor. His life was editing and re-writing and approving story ideas of others and the idea that he accidentally stumbled on to a story gripped him with more than the usual amount of dread.
“Depends what the story is,” he said firmly. “If this is something the public needs to be informed about we’ll have to run it.”
This person needs to be informed about ethics, he thought. “And don’t tell me it’s a weather balloon,” he snickered.
The woman on the other end of the line did not find the comment funny. Instead, she sighed heavily. “We believe it’s the capsule piloted by Captain Robert Taylor attempting to re-enter the atmosphere.”
Eric knew the name of Captain Taylor. The Arkansas billionaire who had re-named himself “Captain” and moved some of his vast holdings into independent space development. Captain then decided to pilot his own shuttle in an effort to prompt the United States Government to “Get on the ball,” as he put it, “and get back into space.”
Nevermind the Danes were doing it. They were almost ready to settle Mars. That did not count, because it was not American.
When his Earth bound technical team lost communication with the Captain, America counted him lost. They had no idea where he was. He had disappeared from the screen and all efforts to find him via satellites and space scopes were futile. Captain Taylor was history, they said.
“Are you sure?” Eric asked. “Wasn’t that three years ago that he disappeared? How could he survive that long?”
“We’re not sure he survived,” she replied.
“If he did not survive, who is piloting the craft?”
“No one,” she said hesitantly. “This is the part you need to keep quiet. It’s a matter of national security.”
Eric nodded fascinated, hoping for the whole story. Concerned this might be something he did not want to hear. His duty to the community would be to print it, but then if he did, he would go to prison.
“Alright,” he said. “Give it to me.”
“We think the capsule is dropping. It’s re-entering our space because of the gravitation, but once it hits our atmosphere, it’ll drop like a stone.”
“Where do you expect it to hit? When?” he asked.
“Siloam Springs, of course.” As if he should know that. “Right in the middle of a cow pasture across from the casino. Tomorrow at nine thirteen a.m.”
“Um, that’s no longer cow pasture.” He informed her. “There’s a new development there. People live there.”
“Remember,” she reminded him. “This is national security.”
Eric disconnected and weighed his options. Tell the story and face prison, possible job loss and whatever torments the National Security Agency would throw at him, or quietly move his family away from the area for a couple of days.
He left work early. That evening, he told his wife they needed to leave for a couple days. He had a heads up on a national story, but could not print it.
“Does this have something to do with the Earth-lunar gravitational shift?” she asked. “You know this happens every couple hundred years. People used to think the moon was crashing into the Earth.”
He could not answer, but felt himself color, remembering the conversation with the woman from the observatory. Perhaps she had a good laugh, he thought.
Still, he wanted to take no chances.
As they left Siloam Springs behind, his wife pointed out how much brighter and larger the white thing in the sky was. There was no moon.