Originally posted on Good Friday, 2006 CE – alternatively, year 1 BQ (Before Quilldancer) – on the now long-defunct Felloffatruck Publications blog. Discovered while Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba was researching the past – the past when Quilly was content to dismiss YFNA as a ‘pompous jerk’ (alas, how some things don’t change).
The scientist was walking home. It had been a long day of databases, and DNA gels, and repeated web searches for arcane facts, and people passing each other like the proverbial ships in a fog, each aware of the other only just in time to avoid collision, just long enough to be assured of safe passage.
He was alone. He was also hungry, but the city had already locked itself away from the street people. Everyone else had gone home. The Asians of the university were under the curfew of responsibility, diligent in their pursuit of a life of respectable getting and spending, while the whites were dipping into their stores, stocked in anticipation of the approaching long weekend. In this part of town, the blacks were few and, apparently, blended into the night.
He walked down the street, thinking of the food he’d have to fix for himself at this late hour. But his thoughts were repeatedly interrupted by the insistent sweetness of jasmine, the scent coming now from a garden, now from some hidden clothes dryer, now from a perfumed partygoer on a balcony above his head.
He looked up. He suddenly realized that he had not been able to do this for more than a week. The incessant, and abnormal, spring rains had kept the good citizens of Berkeley trapped under parkas and umbrellas, eyes cast down, treading carefully through the water and the mud. Tonight, though, the rain had at last come to an end, the pavements were dry, and he could scan the sky without getting a face, or a shoe, full.
He saw that the clouds had not disappeared – the anti-rainbow, he thought with resigned disgust – but they were not the solid bank they had been, either. In fact, in large parts of the sky, there was a regular pattern of square clouds, alternating with square holes that revealed the unreachable depths beyond. A stratospheric chessboard. And in one of the holes, there shone a single star.
The scientist was fascinated at the sight, and a little troubled. At this fascination, his professional side was more than a little annoyed. Yes, he knew that tomorrow would bring that capriciously-dated holiday, Good Friday, when a 2000-year-old man whose birth was symbolized by a star was, as the story goes, put to death by the Romans under suspicious circumstances. He had read the sober scholars who doubted whether the execution ever occurred, whether the one executed even existed. He had read the accounts linking the stories told of Jesus with those told of Mithras, and how both traditions shared elements with traditions that were older still.
The scientist could look up that star on a chart. Calculate its size, distance from Earth, and motion relative to Earth. Calculate the probability that a few photons, of all the ones randomly cast into space by the nuclear fires of that star, would survive all the mischances of travel over multiple thousands of light-years of time and parsecs of distance to intersect with his eye at 11 PM PDT on 13 April 2006 on the grounds of the University of California at Berkeley. That picture of a star framed by chessboard clouds was a freak of randomness, a happy chance perhaps, but a chance all the same, signifying nothing.
But he could not stop the wave of alarm and dismay that pounded on him when the chessboard moved and the star vanished, snuffed out by a white square.