David woke to the shrill alarm of the phone. He opened a bleary eye and took a peek at the bedside clock. It was three thirty in the morning. What could be so important, so urgent it required his attention at this time of night?
He reached out from under the warm duvet and fumbled for the phone.
"Yeah blerg?" Was the best he could manage to say.
"David? David Shawdale? Is that you?" An excited voice asked.
"Yes." David mumbled back. Three thirty in the morning for goodness sake.
"It's Graham, Dr Graham Hockley."
"Graham, a pleasure." David found himself saying despite the fact that he wasn't finding it a pleasure at all.
"I'm calling direct from the Observatory in New Mexico, I thought you should be the first to know." Graham continued. "I've just been looking at the data from our star and something strange has happened."
"Strange? How?" David repeated numbly. His mind was beginning to whir into action throwing off the cloying veil of sleep.
"I'm not entirely sure yet. We've observed something unusual."
"It's not disappeared has it?" David asked. This had always been a possibility with the Shawdale-Hockley star.
"No, no. Some kind of anomaly has formed on its surface. Don't really know much about it yet, but I thought you should know."
"Thanks Graham. Do you know what time it is here?" David asked.
"Midnight, One o'clock?" Graham replied. "I must confess I didn't think about it, I was so excited."
"OK, well thanks Graham." David hung up, rolled over and went back to sleep.
The following morning after breakfast David drove his battered old Jaguar XJS onto Durham University campus, where he worked in the Astrophysics Department.
He was struck by the amount of activity on campus and was that a BBC camera crew setting up their equipment? he asked himself as he drove towards the Department of Astrophysics. Turning into the car-park, under the yellow painted scaffold pole that read 'max height two meters', he caught sight of Penelope Jameson, his research assistant, hurrying towards him.
She'd spotted him pulling in, and as he manoeuvred his Jaguar into a parking space she trotted across the damp autumn tarmac. There was something awkward and fragile about Penelope, David thought. Her long thin frame always clad in the derigere denim jeans and thick black roll neck sweater. Today her dark brown bob cut hair was thrust into one of those strange Norwegian looking woolly hats. The ones with ear flaps and dangly bits of yarn hanging from the ends. As she approached him the autumn wind played with the loose hairs around her face.
David got out of the car and took his battered brown leather attaché case and grey mackintosh from the back seat.
"Morning Pen." David said.
"David I'm so glad I caught you before you got to your office." Penelope said pulling a wisp of hair from her pale lips as she spoke.
"Really?" David replied, wondering if this was to be another of her worries about her final paper. He folded his coat over his arm and turned towards the car park exit.
"Your office is under siege, the corridor's full of people from the news wanting to talk to you about H1Z15B." She looked at him questioningly as if he should know the answer and a little surprised that he didn't.
"We shouldn't stand around here David, you might get spotted. We can go to The Montesquieu just over there." Penelope said looking round the car park in such a suspicious fashion that, had anyone been watching them, they would have surely been noticed.
"The Montesquieu?" David was puzzled at the choice.
"Yes, the Sociology department café. It's out of the way." Penelope insisted, and began leading the way through parked cars with rain on their window screens and red, brown and yellow autumn leaves dotting their shiny metal carapaces.
In The Montesquieu they settled down with a drink each. "it's not the best coffee on campus," Penelope said as she brought the mugs over from the counter, "but it's warm in here, and less conspicuous."
David laughed. "You make this sound like a spy thriller and we're the hunted fugitives." He looked round the room they were in. Typical student-run campus café with cheap seating. Someone had made an effort with a soft sagging sofa and a comfy chair in one corner, while an old Soviet propaganda poster glared angrily across the room at a cheap print of Warhol's Marilyn Monroe. One grim and imposing, the other light and playful.
David sipped his coffee and waited. Glancing at Penelope over the rim of his coffee mug, it became clear she was lost in a world of her own making.
"Penelope, what are we doing here?" he asked her eventually.
"Oh yes, right." She returned to the world around her. Taking a gulp of coffee she said. "The Dean asked me to get you out of the way until you're ready to face the media."
"I take it this is about the Shawdale-Hockley anomaly?" He asked. Up until then it hadn't occurred to him that the anomaly would attract any attention from the media.
"They're camped outside your office and its all "Is Dr. Shawdale here yet?" and "Can we have an interview.?" What's this all about?" Penelope asked.
"I'm not too clear myself." David confessed. "I got a call late last night, well early this morning, from Dr. Hockley telling me he's observed an anomaly."
"Something has formed on the surface of the star. Dr. Hockley hasn't identified it yet, but thinks it might be a giant solar flare. Whatever it is, it's highly unusual, this could be a really exciting development in Astronomy. We might have had a hundred thousand year wait to observe something like this. The light it could shed on star activity, well who knows." David exclaimed.
"OK I guess I need to find out what the media already knows." David said. "There isn't a TV in here is there?"
"Perhaps we can find out on this" Penelope said, producing a neat little glossy pink laptop from her satchel. She placed it on the table and flipped open its lid. "I hope it hooks to the network, I think I've used it in here before. Probably."
They waited patiently for the laptop to do what computers do when they make you wait for them, then Penelope poked at the finger pad and clicked a few keys and scratched her head and clicked some more. Eventually she swung the screen round towards David.
"There you are." she said.
David stared at the web browser on the screen which showed a BBC news page. It was headlined Shawdale-Hockley Anomaly, and went on to say, "Last night from the San Messa Alto Observatory in New Mexico Dr. Graham Hockley reported an apparent anomaly in the Shawdale-Hockley star after noting changes in data made from standard scheduled observations. A previously unseen spot has now been discovered on the Shawdale-Hockley star which was first observed twenty two years ago by David Shawdale now an associate lecturer in Astronomy at Durham University. This star is no stranger to controversy however as its origins remain a topic of hot debate amongst astronomers even today. The recent appearance of a small spot or mark, thought to be on the surface of the star, is just another example of this star's continuing determination to startle us all."
David searched a couple more news sites all of which said pretty much the same thing.
"What do you think? What are you going to do?" Penelope asked, excitement showing in her eyes.
"I'm thinking that there's little I can add to the story right now, a quote perhaps, yep I'll need a quote, and may be I'll get a slot on a daytime chat show, they pay quite nicely. I think we're going to need to get some big scope time as well. No wait, we'll not get that now. I need to make some calls and see if we can get a datafeed from someone." David thought aloud.
"Look I need you to stall the media for a while, tell them I'll be making a statement in say an hour's time? Thanks Penelope."
She scooped up her machine and dashed off in the nervous, energetic way she went about everything. David was left to contemplate the joys of another muddy coffee from The Montesquieu Café. He'd just started sipping through the watery suds that floated in his cup when his mobile phone rang. It was Bob.
"David, I take it you've heard the news by now." Bob's voice rumbled down the phone. "Looks like your lucky star is shining for you again. I don't know, astronomically, if this is going to be something or nothing, but I think we should capitalise on it now. I'm thinking here's a chance to push the biog, perhaps a lecture tour, while things are hot, it's good for you and it sells telescopes."
"Always with one eye on the sales graph eh Bob?" David laughed, "Well I'd thought I might get a chat show out of this."
"Good man, that's the right way of thinking. I'll get someone in the office to call up a couple of TV companies just to see how the land lies so to speak, see what they're thinking. Have you thought of a quote yet? How about 'The potential for space to surprise us is beyond the limits of our imagination'."
"Not bad, not bad I might have to think about stealing that one. I'm giving a press conference shortly and it might come in handy." David said.
"You go ahead and do so Davy boy." Bob laughed.
The call from Bob brought the memories flooding back. Running his fingers through his light brown hair and scratching his clean shaven chin, David remembered vividly how twenty two years earlier he'd discovered a star and been thrust briefly into the limelight.
His father had given him a Harding T41 Stargazer telescope for his twelfth birthday. The T41 was a proper grown up astral telescope and David set up an observatory in the shed at the bottom of the garden at his parent's house in Leeds.
His father had cut a hole in the shed roof and covered it with an ingenious mechanism involving rope and a pulley, which allowed David to open and close the hatch as needed. On clear nights he'd take his leather satchel filled with astronomer's notepad, pencils and a lens cloth, down to the bottom of the garden. After carefully cleaning the lenses he would haul on the hatch rope and tie it off on the cleat, before settling in for an evening of star gazing.
His secret wish was to find a star. He'd known that that was unlikely, but to find a star, to have it named after you, your name remembered in the heavens for eternity. Not likely, but... he remembered the night it had actually happened for him.
Sitting in the shed on a cold November day with clear skies. He made some observations and faithfully noted them in his notepad. He turned on BBC radio four to listen to a light comedy show while he stared into the depths of the universe.
It was about halfway through the show when David first spotted it. He knew the exact time because he'd dutifully noted it in his book, 10:43:35, alongside the coordinates of his observation.
From the beginning David's star had had something strange about it, it was unusual. David had watched it for several nights. At first not sure if it was a new discovery or not. He spent several days checking star charts. Then he wasn't sure it was a star at all, so faint, sometimes not visible at all, he checked and re-checked that it wasn't a fleck of dust on the lens. Still not entirely reassured as it might be a satellite, he watched it for a month before officially filing his observations. Of course it would be a satellite, it was very dim.
It was a few months later when a Professor of Astronomy at the University of New Mexico, called Hockley, got time on a big telescope and was able to confirm David's discovery. Though only to the extent that an object had been observed, that it was persistent, and it wasn't a satellite. It was dully designated UO483752.
David had been disappointed at that. No star, no name. Of course he'd discovered something but what? Even the big scopes couldn't tell and while a small debate raged briefly amongst the international astronomers community they were unable, at the time, to agree on anything about it. However everything changed around a year later.
Despite his disappointment with UO483752 David had remained faithful to it. Naturally he was also looking around for his next big discovery when he noticed UO483752 had got brighter. He wasn't the only one. Over a 36 day period UO483752 continued to increase in intensity to the point where it was clearly a star.
The astronomical community was on fire. This had suddenly become an important event. Firstly had they just witnessed the birth of a star? What else could it be? The debate was to rage for years because the phenomenon failed to conform to predictions. Two schools of thought developed on the matter; one that this was what happened when stars were formed, and therefore the predictive models were wrong; and the second that felt the models were fine, and this was something else, a new phenomenon.
At the time David hadn't cared. He had his star. The Shawdale-Hockley designated star H1Z15B. As a bonus, because of the uproar in astronomical circles and the unusualness of the star, David benefited further. He was invited to become a Fellow of the British Society of Astronomers, and a certain amount of media attention followed which had added benefits for a teenage boy.
There had been several chat show appearances and cameo appearances on shows with science as their themes or where the theme was space or stars. He'd got to blow up a caravan with explosives, drive a racing car, and have a free holiday, but the highlight had been his appearance on Sound Live, a Saturday teen music and cartoon show, where he'd got to introduce the programs, along with the regular hosts, pour gunge on a school teacher, meet the members of a cool band, and best of all, where he acquired the nickname Starman.
After that the Shawdale-Hockley had set him on his path. He wasn't a dedicated student, but he was able to concentrate and finished school with good enough results to guarantee him a place at university. His fame in astronomical circles brought him fortune through a spate of TV advertisements, mainly for chocolate bars and scientific toys, as well as a sponsorship agreement with a local telescope manufacturer, none other than Graham Harding of Hardings Telescopes.
These little pieces of luck had been enough to give David a degree of financial freedom and academic credit. So while he didn't actually need to hold the post at the university, it was a nice addition to the coffers, and welcome academic recognition. It also gave him access to otherwise expensive or unobtainable resources, like scope time with big telescopes. Then there was the biography. Selling nicely in it's second year. Of course that had been Bob Harding's idea. When he'd first suggested it David laughed, who would find his life interesting?
Having taken over the business from his father Graham, and having a keen eye for good marketing, Bob had paid a ghost writer who soon produced what was unarguably a good read that made astronomy exciting, even if there seemed to be things in it about David's life that he'd never heard before.
The book sold moderately well and telescope sales went up.
"It gives young people an insight into astronomy." Bob had said. "What can be achieved if you really put your mind to it. It brings it to life for them and the youth market is exactly the market that the T41 and T38 models are targeted at." he explained to David one evening as they sat around the real log fire in the back room of the Dog and Duck Pub. "This star of yours, man you have a star, a star to follow, it must be luck, do you know just how lucky you are?"
David laughed. "Not just luck, I've spent many nights sat at a telescope," David reminded him.
His lucky star, and now it was changing his life again. Perhaps Bill had been right that night in the Dog and Duck, but was this to be good luck or bad luck? He was brought back from his thoughts by Penelope waving at him from across the table.
"David. David, the news people are getting very insistent and the Dean's demanding you talk to them so they'll go away." Penelope said breathlessly.
"OK well I should try to keep the Dean happy, after all he pays the bills." David got up from the table and they began walking over to the Astrophysics Building.
"What do you think of 'The distant stars shine new light on the cradle of the universe' as a quote?" he asked.
"A bit ponderous perhaps." Penelope answered.