The spots began appearing one day and no one noticed. They were just bits of fluff, dried soap bubbles or extrusions from insects or fungi.
The first person to notice was an eccentric named Isra Hazr who worked in a clinic in Yemen. She was obsessed with tracking aircraft from her roof with her binoculars, speculating to herself whether they were American drones. The little spots she noticed on the adobe wall of her roof garden weren’t natural. They might be proof that the Americans were… doing something. Isra put her binoculars aside and took time to examine the encrustations in detail. The samples seemed to be some kind of ash but according to her new Geiger counter they were slightly radioactive. She was so happy.
Hazr posted her observations to YouTube but her investigations were so focused on what she called her “scientific struggle” that she made the mistake of mentioning aliens, not Zionists. So she gained no traction on social media before her video was flagged and temporarily blocked.
An analyst named Bert reviewed the video. He remembered the cluster of small spots that had appeared on the side of his garage that morning. Bert had bent down to take a close look. The spots looked like they might support a chrysalis or egg sack but there were none in evidence. He had forgotten about it until he viewed Isra’s macro-photography of the spidery strands.
Agents Taylor Ganeot and Taylor Duslinyi were assigned the task of looking for samples of the phenomenon in the area around Fort Meade. Yellow evidence bags, sealed and labeled, filled a cardboard box in the back seat of the Tahoe. The truck sat with its doors open at the curb next to a dog park.
“Mike?” asked Taylor from where she was fumbling one-handed with a Geiger counter next to the samples.
“Jennifer?” The agents didn’t know each others’ real names. They were both on light-duty due to injuries and had been rotated to the D.C. cell from Milwaukee and San Diego, respectively.
“The sample box is hot,” she said.
“What? We checked a bunch of samples.”
“We didn’t check them all together as a lump.”
It was a long couple of days for both Taylors, much of it spent inside a Nuclear Emergency Support Team trailer.
The Taylors’ sample scrapings disintegrated at the first touch so NEST could only look at the agents’ photos to confirm the resonant shapes of hyperspace macrostrings. The light oxides and organic molecules had been fried by high-energy radiation. NEST was puzzled. Energy that intense doesn’t interact with matter very much. It certainly wouldn’t limit its interactions to the surfaces of objects.
Bert was worried. After his initial report he moved on to look for medical consequences in the population: bruising, wounds, melanomas. After scrolling through the hits and noting the steady rise in reports over the last few weeks, Bert sat for a long minute before calling the after-hours Alert Office.
After confirming the day code the AO got right to it, “What’s up?”
“I have a. Um. I’ve got a potential issue for the World Health Organization.”
“What?” the AO asked.
“Ah. Lesions and tumors on skin from some kind of cosmological phenomenon.” Hearing himself say it, Bert cringed around the handset.
“A what now?”
“It’s related to the unconfirmed flash item on your daily briefing? Unidentified chemical or biological residue? It doesn’t have a codename yet but it’s got my tag on it. I just appended it with the update.”
“Um.” The AO was silent for a while, reading. “If this is a joke this is your last chance to say so.”
“Not a joke. A hoaxer would have to run a worldwide operation to generate traffic then set up dozens of scenes in our neighborhood for our wet-team to find. So not likely to be a hoax.”
“Hm. Okay Bert. I’m escalating. We may not be in touch for an hour or two. I assume you’ve been working on this all day? Take a nap if you need to but stay close to your desk.”
“Will do,” said Bert.
Isra Hazr noticed one day that new spots had stopped appearing. She spent more and more time roaming the streets of Shibam, searching for them. Isra’s work in the clinic suffered when she couldn’t look forward to her observations. Old Doctor Harazi took her aside for a private tongue-lashing. “You should have a husband, then you could take up sewing and not need to work!”
A month after the spots stopped appearing she got a telephone call from an Egyptian UFO enthusiast. She had been born Khyatha Ghobrial but now she went by Miriam Hussein.
“I publish a magazine about strange phenomena, Sights of Ancient Lands. You know it?”
Isra put her hand to her mouth. “I have every issue.”
“We were looking for new contributors and I found your work on the drones and the chemical spots. You are very observant.”
Isra stifled a squeal.
Bert was working late when the phone rang. It was the swing shift Action Officer.
“So,” said the AO. “The Department of Energy figured out their little glitch.”
“I read the report,” said Bert. “Was it wet-team GIMPY who made them quit screwing with the universe?”
“I can’t comment on that,” said the AO, “but I can comment on something else. We took up your suggestion and bought into that terrible UFO rag.”
“She could be a great asset. Right on the crossroads up to the Hadhramauts.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” said the AO. “One good turn deserves another, right?”