The Vanishing Nebula
("Soul Mates" Part 5)
On the roof of the Universidad Astrològica de Brazil, a lone figure leaned, transfixed, over the eyepiece of a large telescope. Auryn Santos couldn't resist reveling in the thrill that raced down her back as she sat with her neck strangely twisted, one eye plastered to the scope. The jewel-toned celestial cloud twisted and danced almost imperceptibly before her vision. Auryn could have remained, mesmerized, for hours—if a shooting pain in her neck did not remind her that, should she choose that option, she would also be choosing potentially permanent damage to the muscles that kept her head from flopping to the side like a demented ostrich. Auryn pulled back and massaged the crook of her shoulder. Looking up at the sky with naked eyes, she could see no sign of the massive nebula she had been watching. The things she saw through that telescope were truly reserved for her eyes only; others could only imagine the amazing things she saw. Only she could prove and bear witness to their existence. Smiling softly, she moved to the small portable table beside her and jotted down a note.
9:56 PM—Auryn Santos Observation 21.1. Prism Nebula shows activity. Shifting consistent with gravitational pull of nearby celestial bodies.
The creak of the door broke the stillness of the night.
She looked up and smiled as a dark-haired woman emerged from the stairwell.
“I was wondering how long it would take,” Auryn remarked.
Her co-worker shook her head. “I thought everyone else had left by now; why are you still here so late?”
Auryn waved a hand carelessly. “Oh, you know me, Arielle,” she sighed, “burning the midnight oil.”
Arielle leaned over the table and sniffed at the toaster sitting next to the coffee maker, grimacing delicately at the odor. “More like burning the midnight toast,” she remarked.
Auryn gasped and flipped the lever on the appliance; she had completely forgotten ever turning it on. She gave her friend an embarrassed grin.
“Oops,” she remarked, removing the narrow slab of charcoal from the wiry depths of the toaster.
Arielle chuckled as she leaned back against the table and crossed her arms. She tilted her head back and regarded the Latina with a droll expression. “Suddenly I’ve figured out why all the professors prefer you to keep your work in areas completely devoid of delicate machinery or volatile chemicals.”
Auryn snorted. “One little mistake—“
“The bacteria cultures from last week?”
“How was I supposed to know they’d react so fast? Isn’t that why they call it an experiment? Because the outcome is uncertain?”
“Auryn! That’s why they want students to form hypotheses beforehand, so that when you do begin the experiment, at least you have some sense of expectation!”
Auryn stuck her lip out in a pout. “Anyway,” she changed the subject, “what are you doing here so late? Your project was done hours ago.”
Arielle fingered a lock of her hair as she got what Auryn called her “cute face”: the expression of love and longing tinged with admiration and gratification that always came on when she thought of her husband, thousands of miles away.
“I know,” said Arielle. “Kenneth called.”
Auryn raised her eyebrows and gestured with her open hand. “And?” she prompted.
Arielle still kept the smile on her face. “And we talked.”
Auryn reached over and gave Arielle’s shoulder a joking push. “And?” she repeated.
Arielle rolled her eyes. “And we said goodbye.” Her sparkling eyes danced as she enjoyed the effect her evasions were having upon her friend.
Auryn stuck out her tongue at her friend. “That’s not what I meant, chiquita linda; what did you talk about?”
Arielle let out a sigh. “All right, fine; he was just asking how my project was going, and he just wanted to give me an update about how things are going back at home. Apparently he’s got another lecture series going on at—“
Arielle’s voice cut off and Auryn flinched as a blinding flash streaked across the sky. A resounding crack followed the flash, and Auryn thought she saw a sizeable explosion somewhere in the northeast, over the Atlantic Ocean.
“What was that?” Arielle squeaked.
Auryn was still watching the sky, wondering where the explosion had come from, and what it meant. “I don’t know…” her voice trailed off as her eyes wandered back to the telescope. Would she be able to see anything from there? “Let me check something,” she said, moving to the eyepiece.
Nothing but blank space and distant stars many thousands of light-years away met her searching gaze. Auryn adjusted the angle of the telescope left and right, but all to no avail. “Impossible!” she cried. “Where did it go?”
“Where did what go?” Arielle asked, moving to stand beside her.
Auryn backed away and gestured for Arielle to have a look. “Right there is the position where I’ve been watching this really gorgeous nebula all week long—and now it’s completely gone!”
“Auryn,” Arielle looked up from the telescope. “You sound ridiculous. How can an entire nebula just be gone? If it was one star in the last stages of its life, I could understand—but a nebula? That’s a whole bunch of cosmic dust right there!”
“Well,” Auryn threw up her hands, “where else could it be?”
Arielle shrugged. “How should I know? You might check meteorological sites or something. Maybe they would have more information on whatever that flash-bang thing was, too.”
Auryn opened her computer and started typing information into the search box.
“Okay, let’s see… here’s something: ‘Large Meteor Crashes Just Off The Coast Of Ireland.’ Oh, no way!” She grinned and scanned the article. “Okay, it says they’re not completely sure where it landed, but there are quite a number of smaller islands around the area within the meteor’s trajectory, so chances might be that the meteor struck one of those.”
Arielle was already reading over her shoulder. “Neat!” she said.
Auryn was already noting the event in her logbook.
10PM—Auryn Santos Observation 21.2 Loud explosion, lots of light and noises. Prism Nebula has disappeared. Why? When will it show up again?
Auryn glanced at her friend and smiled very slowly. “Hey Arielle,” she said, “wanna bail and go hunt for a meteor off the coast of Ireland?”
Arielle grinned. “I think that sounds like a great idea,” she yawned heavily, “but let’s get some sleep first. We can ask the Dean’s permission in the morning.”
Previously in This Series: