Royal Martin had spent a good bit of the past four weeks watching the low southwestern skies, hoping to catch a few glimpses of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. The shower was less visible from the northern hemisphere than it was from the southern, and it had peaked several weeks earlier, but the show, growing sparser as the weeks passed, had continued. The best viewing was after midnight each night, which meant he didn't get very many nights during the peak times, but his weekend a couple weeks ago had been worth all the late nights and the battles with his mom and dad over how late he could stay up.
This particular Saturday, he hadn't been so concerned about the meteor shower; the last few night's viewings had confirmed for him that the shower had run its course. Instead he had hoped to get some good looks at Jupiter, and perhaps even Saturn. If he was lucky, Titan could still be separated from the rings to be in good view, but he knew that his best times for Saturn and its moon wouldn't come until almost dawn.
Royal had been responsible about his sky watching schedule during the recent late night activities, and with school done for the year as of yesterday, his parents had let him 'camp out' with his scope in the back yard. This meant he could stay up as much as he wanted that night, and the plan was to use the alarm on his watch to wake himself up every couple of hours.
It was two am when the alarm went of for the first time. He'd laid down on his sleeping bag several hours earlier, just after midnight, and it seemed as if he'd barely more than blinked his eyes before the alarm was sounding. Royal had kept his sleeping bag unzipped, not needing the extra warmth in the mild weather, so there was no struggle to get out of it, he simply tossed the top away from him and let the cooler air help wake him up. Once he was sitting up, he reached for the thermos he'd brought out that evening and poured himself a cup of the dark black tea that his mom had let him prepare for his night out. She'd balked at the idea of his making coffee, but had agreed to the tea without hesitation. Royal had heard that the tea was supposed to have more caffeine in it anyway, so wasn't disappointed. All he was after was an efficient caffeine delivery system.
Once the tea had begun to achieve its purpose, and after having made a quick trip to a spot by the back fence to relieve his bladder, Royal was just beginning to scan the sky to the north, trying to decide on his next target, when he caught something moving out of the corner of his eye. 'Meteor!' he thought to himself. 'Sick!'
To Royal's amazement, this meteor was a much more intimate encounter than any of his recent viewings through the telescope. As he watched the small, bright ball of light, it arrowed down and east from out of the northwestern sky, until it was almost overhead, and low. Impossibly low, he thought. For a brief second it dropped below the night sky-blocking ridge line of the mountains to the north, then it disappeared completely, occluded by the nearest hills. "Damn!" Royal swore aloud. It was a sign of just how much his mother's displeasure affected him that after uttering the curse word, he glanced around, to see if anyone had overheard it.
Danni and Royal had been friends since the first grade. The two were, as Danni's older sister Megan called them, 'cloned from the same defective subhuman stock'.
By the time the two friends had reached the fifth grade, they might have agreed with her, though both were prone to ignoring the subhuman part. Neither was tall and fair, as the popular kids were. Both wore glasses and Danni's crooked nose was fitting companion to Royal's ears, which stuck out too far. Both were shorter than most of their classmates and Royal was stick thin and quick to tire from physical exertion. Danni, while stronger than her friend and possessing greater stamina, was, as she often lamented, 'barrel shaped and hideous'. Sixth grade followed, and seemed to confirm their place. Fortunately for both their self-images, they knew they were two of the 'smart kids' in their grade, and they took pride in it.
Danni and Royal were best friends and general partners in crime, and had been since Royal's parents had moved into the house next door. Having both just finished the seventh grade, they were still the closest of friends and allies. As soon as Royal woke up Sunday morning, he called her.
"You're up early," her voice said, recognizing his number.
"Danni, I saw a meteor last night!" Royal said excitedly.
"Well of course you did. That's what you do, duh!" Danni found it incredibly annoying that her friend, having spent his late nights for almost the entire last month searching for meteors, should feel compelled to call her at nine O'clock on a Sunday to say he'd seen one.
"No," Royal said with a laugh, realizing immediately how it must've sounded. "Not with the telescope. I saw one with my naked eyes, and I think it landed nearby. Really close nearby."
"How can you know that? Did you see it hit?"
"No, but I'm pretty sure it went down somewhere near Ritmer Creek."
"You know the spot it fell on?" Danni asked incredulously.
"Well, no, but look. The ridge line we see to the northwest is pretty much just the line of ridges past that road. That ridge is made up of a long line of hills that peak at 800 feet. Between that line and here, the highest hill is only 400 feet. I saw the meteor go in front of the 800 foot line and behind the 400 hundred foot one. Given the bearing I took, that points to Ritmer Creek or the hillside on either side of it."
"Really? You think?" Danni asked.
"Hell, I could be wrong. It was two in the morning and I'd just gotten up, but I'd had time to drink a cup of tea and start getting ready. I was awake!"
"Well okay, I believe you, Roy. Question is, what do you want to do?"
"I want to go find it!"
"There's not much up there and its a lot of territory to have to cover." Danni warned, knowing that Royal wasn't up to any kind of extended hike in the hills north of town.
"I know, but I took a bearing, like I said, and I've been looking at it with Google Maps, and I think I've at least got it narrowed down to within a couple of miles."
"So we're going to wander up Ritmer Creek, looking for a meteor?"
"Sure, but neither of our parents would go for the two of us climbing those hillsides, so instead, you're going rock collecting along the creek, and I'm coming along to pay you back for helping me get setup for my meteor shower watching."
"Hmm ... Okay, that's workable. Believable even. Should I be getting worked up over what we might find?"
"I wouldn't. Chances are there won't be anything to see. Anything big enough to have something left when it hit the ground should have made a good bit of noise and some sort of explosion when it hit. If there is though, it could still be pretty hard to find."
"We'll work out the details. Its summer vacation, we've got plenty of time."
"Alright, you want me to start the ball rolling then, ask my parents if I can go rock collecting up Ritmer Creek?"
"Probably best if you do. If they balk, and you know they're likely to, suggest bringing me along, if I can go."
"Making sure I don't make it sound pre-arranged, right?" Danni giggled.
"You got it. Talk to you later then?"
The two of them hung up and went about their Sunday mornings. Danni's parents would soon be collecting her for church. Royal's parents were not particularly religious themselves, and wouldn't normally go to church outside of a special occasion. They weren't atheists or anything, but his dad in particular seemed to have no fondness for churches in general, regardless of the precepts of their faith or the manners their pastors brought to the pulpit. Danni's parents may have been regular church goers themselves, but they were not 'church-types' as Royal's dad defined them, and though they required Danni to go to Sunday school when she was younger, the choice had been left up to her about attending church, and most of the time, she went.
While Royal and Danni shared many common interests, it was not true that they had none separate from the other. Danni was interested in crystals and rock collecting in general. Royal wanted to be an astronomer when he grew up and many of his evenings were spent, as these recent late nights had been, with the Edmunds Scientific Astroscan telescope that had been his eighth birthday present. He currently was lusting after the Celestron Nexstar 5e. The Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope, with its computer controls and astrophotographic accessories seemed to have everything he dreamed of in a telescope, but it was just too expensive to hope it would be delivered as a birthday present or Christmas gift. For Danni's part, her wish list was topped by contact lenses, despite a pretty definite indication that she would have to wait a couple more years before her parents would provide them.
The days following Royal's Sunday phone call saw their plan rolled out and brought to fruition. The only wrinkle was that Danni's sister Megan had to go with them. This seeming obstacle was made a non-issue when Megan told them that she would be driving them to their designated drop-off spot, as agreed, but she would not be 'hiking up, down or across any damn river with you twerps!'.
.... There is more of this story ...
Science Fiction /