The mayor knew he'd made a mistake booking his town-hall meeting at Anthis Career Center even before he saw the crowd.
The auditorium holds 462 people, and every seat was taken more than an hour before the 6 p.m. meeting. Dozens more people crammed into the hall outside, waiting for folding chairs and TV monitors to be fetched. Still more showed up, saw the growing horde and left grumbling.
Much of Fort Wayne had witnessed the previous night's light show, and it was rehashed by newspapers, TV newscasts and websites. The mayor considered moving his meeting to a larger venue at the last minute, but he figured he'd infuriate an audience already on edge. Besides, the public access TV channel was broadcasting the event.
Astronomers had concurred that the streaks of silver the night before had to have been meteors. The planetarium director at the University of Saint Francis was certain of it; he had seen them himself, and that's what he would tell the town-hall audience.
The Saint Francis astronomer joined the others on the stage: the mayor, the Homeland Security director, the Air National Guard wing commander and representatives of the airport authority, the National Weather Service, Raytheon and BAE.
Cindy was on the panel to represent ITT. She wore a Band-Aid where her chin had skidded on the sidewalk when she was knocked down outside Parkview Field. She was shocked when it happened; later, while letting her ex-husband clean and patch her wounds at her home, she was angry: What's gotten into people? But now, looking at the anxious faces in the audience, Cindy realized she was lucky she hadn't been trampled to death.
Panelists were introduced by the mayor and asked to make brief remarks. The Homeland Security director spoke first, but it wasn't long before he was interrupted.
"What are you hiding?" an audience member shouted.
"Yeah! Where are these lights from?" another person shouted.
Cindy cringed. That sounded a lot like Jake's voice. She trusted he was watching the broadcast at his home.
"Why are fighter jets patrolling the city every night?" another person demanded.
The mayor appealed for order. It was a losing fight. So he invited people in the audience to ask their questions at microphones standing in two aisles of the auditorium.
It was soon apparent the panelists either knew little more than the audience or else were unwilling to reveal what they did know. They offered times, dates, places, descriptions. They tried to refute rumors that their agencies and companies were testing hovercraft or laser weapons. But none would hazard a guess as to what the lights were.
The audience questions soon became accusations.
One person insisted that the $1 million in repairs at Smith Field had gone for technology to contact and lure life from other planets. Smith Field was being turned into an extraterrestrial landing base. Taxpayers were funding an alien invasion.
Another person knew why aliens were coming: Fort Wayne was seventh on Hitler's bombing list – there's a whole book about it. The aliens are coming here for the city's industrial products, especially magnet wire; they need it for the motors in their spaceships.
Cindy shook her head. She'd read her then-husband's copy of "Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler's List: Indiana Stories," by city native Michael Martone. Don't these people know it's fiction? It's a short story about nostalgia for the World War II era!
The next person at the microphone opened a copy of the Bible and read:
"Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll. … Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth. … Zechariah, Chapter 5, Verse 1."
He flipped the pages to a bookmark.
"For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness. … Second Corinthians, Chapter 11, Verse 14."
This is going to be a long night, Cindy thought.