On an isolated hillside on the planet earth, six bipeds in white jumpsuits are looking up at the sky. It is night, a clear night in early November with a rising, waxing moon, Orion in a nose dive on the western horizon, and a stunning field of stars swathed by gauzy traces of the Milky Way.
The uniforms of the bipeds undulate in and out of visibility in the darkness, like pale fish sighted in murky water. It is somehow reassuring to remind myself occasionally of the obvious, that my companions are native-born earthlings and that I am less than twenty miles away from my house in Austin. The nature of our business here makes such thoughts particularly warming, for it is just conceivable that tonight may be the night when the members of Project Starlight International (PSI) succeed in their goal of establishing contact with a UFO.
Yes, it is night when all possibilities are reverberant, waiting in the wings. From my reading, I know what to expect: a bright elliptical object with the luster of a pearl, peopled by “entities” who could answer to any number of descriptions: little bipeds four feet tall with silvery skin, twelve-foot giants in diving suits, beings my size with glowing eyes shaped like wraparound sunglasses, maybe with claws, or cauliflower ears, bald humanoids with emaciated rib cages and booties and jock straps, hairy creatures with broad chests that seem to be supported by cross-beams.
But there will be plenty of room for speculation in this story. Right now there is the empirical presence of Ray Stanford and his associates rolling back the roof of the four-foot-high white brick building which serves as an observation area as well as a kind of toolshed for PSI’s $25,000 worth of equipment designed specifically to catch any neighboring UFOs in a crossfire of unshakable documentation.
After the roof is rolled back and Stanford has mounted a telescope-laser-video camera complex on a remote-control pan-and-tilt head, he begins an explanation of the equipment for my benefit. I follow as best I can, but in the darkness my notes must feel their own way. Stanford shows me a magazine sensor about twice the size of a pencil box which contains 90,000 wires—I write it down—“90,000 wires”—but my eyes and my attention are elsewhere: they drift uncontrollably upward and notice with suspicion a flock of moonlit birds swooping silently overhead, the strobe lights of an airplane, the afterimage of a meteor, signs in the sky that can be read either as false alarms or omens…
“We wear these suits for two reasons,” Stanford says. (It is daylight, a day earlier. My notes are impeccable.) He lifts his arms so I can assess his uniform to the fullest effect: it is a white jumpsuit bought right here in Austin at a uniform supply shop. Above the left pocket the initials of Project Starlight International form an interlocking logo that is stitched into the fabric. The two reasons he and his staff wear the jumpsuits are (1) safety-white will reflect the heat from infrared radiation, a possible component of a possible UFO laser, and (2) general aboveboardness.
“We don’t want to decoy UFOs. This is naive, it’s stupid. It would be stupid to assume that we could, say, make them think that there’s a disabled UFO on the ground.”
“If they’re intelligent, I’m not going to try and play games. We’re not going to wear black and hide in the bushes. This isn’t a game; it’s a dangerous undertaking. That’s one reason we wear name-tags out there—should we be killed, people will at lest be able to identify us.”
“What we’re doing is unique.” Stanford goes on, while I try to suppress an image of him and his crew lying strewn and smoldering in their jumpsuits on a charred hillside surrounded by molten electronic equipment. “No one else in the world is doing this. We want to get quantitative data and test the hypothesis that UFOs can communicate.”
“You see, we can’t rely on verbal reports to give us any more information than we already have. I’m not saying we’re going to solve the UFO mystery, but if we have a sighting we’ll have enough evidence where we’ll turn a few scientific heads.”
Stanford shows me a letter of encouragement from famed UFO skeptic Philip Klass, as well as plaudits from famous UFO believers like J. Allen Hynek, then breaks into an elaborate account of the differences in propulsion between elongated and saucer-shaped UFOs, something about “subatomic particles accelerated to relativistic velocities.”
Stanford is a small, tight, lithe man, the kind of person who doesn’t burn off energy so much as recycle it, so that he gives the impression of being a compact, self-contained organism, a charged maverick particle.
His appearance, especially his gaunt, ascetic’s face, is not out of keeping with his line of work since, besides being a prominent ufologist, Stanford is also a prominent psychic, a medium through whom certain beings called the “Brothers” offer their opinions on such topics as the contents of the Fatima Letter, diet, the identity of Christ, premarital sex, and virtually anything about which the members of the Association for the Understanding of Man (AUM), the organization founded to harness Stanford’s powers, want to know.
AUM boasts a membership of about 850 people, each of whom pays $25 a year in dues, buys and promulgates the organization’s books and tapes, and subscribes to its journal. This money and some generous donations give AUM enough operating capital to sponsor speakers like Uri Geller, lease a semi-posh suite of offices in an Austin building so new no one has put up the little white letters on the directory board, and engage in one of the most serious UFO research projects being conducted in the world.
AUM is pursuing UFOs principally because Stanford is, and Stanford is primarily because he has always seen them. He downplays the role of his psychic energies in this regard. He’s just