08 Jun 69%
The barrier felt slightly soft, giving way for a while, resistance growing and growing until I felt something solid underneath, like a heavily padded sofa cushion, only without a sofa. Or a cushion. It gave away no other sensations – no heat or cold, no static electricity, no sound, no tactile sensation of a particular surface, like wood, metal or fabric would. It felt just like air, but solid. But I also felt it somehow enveloping my hand, like a soft stream of warm water – which brought up that talisman memory again.
Close to the ground, there were no visible signs of the barrier – moss, grass, leaves and other miscellaneous forest blah normally lying around was evenly distributed throughout the area, happily littering the forest in just as random a manner as anywhere else. It did not pile up against the wall, even though it was just as present there as it was higher up. That gave me the first clue about the barrier – either it had just appeared minutes ago – which was not very likely, or it was not as static as it seemed. Otherwise, wind would blow leaves against it , and all the growth around it would follow its shape and its base would be clearly visible. Needless to say, it was certainly artificial.
Carefully feeling my way around I went exploring, trying to find out how far it stretched. Soon its curvature became obvious. After 15 minutes, a couple of falls followed by intense loud swearing in Russian (and believe me, if Russian is good for anything at all – it definitely is for swearing) and a sticky wetness in my right shoe, I was thoroughly covered in mud and ended up back where I started from.
The barrier must have surrounded something. The rational part of my brain was telling me that it’s safer to just leave it alone and forget it ever existed, but I knew I could not do that even if I tried. Could you? Here was a mystery right before me. Just walk away? No way!
I got back to the car and fetched my oversized toolbox which has all kinds of electronic parts, bits and pieces in it. I found the two gadgets that might help me find out more about the artifact.
The first gadget was a cheap Geiger–Müller counter to measure background radiation levels, which I bought after the CANDU reactor heavy water leak scare at the Pickering nuclear power plant. I turned it on and heard a cheerful crackling sound of alpha, beta, and gamma particles interacting with the sensor tube. I watched the levels, slowly approaching the barrier: the reading and the corresponding graph slowly went up from the background level 0.17 microSieverts per hour to 0.63 mSv/hour. Hmm. Interesting. That was still a very low level, nothing even remotely dangerous. But there must have been something there that was emitting at these levels. Either the barrier itself was slightly radioactive, or something behind it was.
“OK, let’s shelve the dosimeter for now and fire the laser!” I said aloud in the tone of Doc Brown from “Back to the Future”. I had a bad habit of talking to myself when I was excited and there was nobody around to talk to. I’ve got a 100 mW visible beam laser with me that I use for pointing constellations and other cool tricks. It has a very nice green beam that is visible for miles at night, burns matches, pops balloons, and apparently does wonders at stopping riot police troops and disabling their pepperspray drones in the latest wave of Chinese anti-government protests. It can also permanently blind you if it shines directly into your eye. Probably not entirely legal, but it was too cool to resist an impulse online order for a geek like me. It’s not as bright during daytime, but in the forest shade the beam was still perfectly visible.
The key was already in the laser’s safety lock, so I turned it and switched the gadget on. The idea was to test whether the barrier was indeed fully transparent, or a projection of some kind that camouflages something hidden inside. I aimed the beam straight at the barrier, and my heart started beating faster: the green beam of coherent light did not make it to the other side of the artifact and the trees behind it. It penetrated just a few centimeters into the barrier and just died out there. There was not even a super-bright dot at the end of it, like the one that appears on a treeline of the opposite shore of a lake at night when I lit it up with my laser on a camping trip. Instead the beam just slowly withered and ceased to exist. I went around the barrier, trying different angles and positions, but the laser consistently behaved the same way.
This meant that the artifact was not some kind of a transparent force field, but a visual projection of the forest that looks seamless with everything around it, and from all directions, no less. I had no idea how that is even theoretically possible, this concept being far above my vague understanding of optics.
These brilliant observations had concluded an amateur science extravaganza for the day. With all the excitement I could not think of anything else to do. Nothing was happening, the barrier was not going anywhere, and I could not get through. I couldn’t just camp outside the wall until something (or someone) would reveal itself to explain the mystery. I looked at the drone debris that was scattered next to it.
An idea started to form in my mind.