This is the second short adventure story in the "Beam" series, followed by "Sphere" and "Link".
The adventure picks where "Beam" left off, with Elizabeth, Lester, and Hitchcock dealing with the fallout of their new fame.
This is how the story begins:
Lester was obsessed. It had been a year since the massive beam of light printed the white sphere that invited humanity to a distant star, and he still spent most of his time inspecting the sensor logs in his office. Pictures of the beam and graphs of data covered his windows, blocking the weak starlight from yet another night spent in isolation.
He had stopped returning calls from the stream of reporters and alien enthusiasts who wanted to rehash the details of those events. The bungalow near the Air Force engineering school that he had rented for years was constantly swamped with people, so now he lived out of a Eurovan that he parked next to the gym.
Standing up from his workstation to reheat the coffee that had grown cold while he worked on his information visualization filters, he caught a whiff of his body odor and wondered if that was why students had stopped coming to office hours.
Lester watched the coffee cup spin in the microwave and thought about the months he spent reviewing every detail of the data that his sensor cloud, Clytemnestra, had stored. He had used his instant fame to get full access and now he had the largest and most detailed information about the beam and the mysterious lensing effects near the Sun that caused it.
As he carefully carried the hot coffee back through the dark halls of the school, Lester stopped in front the conference posters made by the aerospace engineering students. Musing over the difference between the high-resolution images on these posters and the hand-inked graphs that he made when he was a student, Lester leaned in to inspect the results from one of the projects.
The student team had begged and borrowed time on several satellite-based telescopes and pointed them so that the Sun was barely in their peripheral view. After they combined the resulting images, the blinding light of the Sun could be filtered out and the resulting image clearly showed objects that otherwise would have been lost in the glare.
Back at his workstation, Lester sipped the reheated coffee, made a face at the taste, and threw it into the garbage. He began to tap his feet as he wrote a small program that gathered the satellite images with the beam’s lens in their peripheral view. He decided that it was enough to generate interesting data, so he moved over to his red yoga ball and started bouncing while he used his administrator access to pull down the computer code that the students wrote and then modify it to search for objects near the lens that weren't in the Air Force's library of known objects.
He started the program and asked Clytemnestra to call him if she found anything. Lester jogged through the dark campus to the gym and used his keys to let himself into the locker room to take a long, hot shower.
Lester woke to the sound of his mobile ringing. He had fallen asleep standing under the soothing stream of water. Toweling off, he opened the connection and looked at the data stream.
"One new object in the lens orbit."
"Hells yeah," said Lester.